Uncategorized — February 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

The ongoing travesty of Jean Klock Park and the comedy of Emergency Manager Joe Harris, TAKE 2


Let’s try that again, shall we?

I posted this yesterday but got some pertinent facts wrong, not once, but twice. So, I pulled the post until I could get my facts straight.

In my defense, the situation surrounding the fight to save Jean Klock Park is very confusing – unnecessarily confusing, in my opinion. In a city with less than 10,000 residents there are actually TWO groups fighting to save/protect the 90-acre park: Protect Jean Klock Park and Friends of Jean Klock Park (aka “Save Jean Klock Park”).

UPDATE: I have removed comments regarding these two groups being adversaries because they both assure me they are not. I have reasons for my impression that they are and the existence of two groups still strikes me as completely inefficient. However, they tell me they are working together and that’s good. I’m not trying to start a fight where none exists.

At any rate, none of this is to blame for my getting the facts mucked up; that’s my fault. So, let’s try that again, shall we?

Those who have followed the story of Benton Harbor’s Jean Klock Park know that there has been an ongoing battle to rescue it from being taken over by Whirlpool development arm Harbor Shores and the powerful interests that want it developed for the profit of the very wealthy.

Jean Klock Park was originally deeded to the people of Benton Harbor in perpetuity. This did not prevent Benton Harbor officials from leasing part of the park to the Harbor Shores golf course in 2008. The development of three holes on the course changed the nature of the park from a forested duneland into a sculpted and paved recreation area. In exchange for the lease, the city was given land elsewhere that later turned out to be contaminated with chemical waste.

There have been two lawsuits pertaining to Jean Klock Park over the years. Both ended in rulings against the park defenders. One case was filed by Julie Weiss of Protect Jean Klock Park and others. Earlier this week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling against them:

90-acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore were donated nearly a century ago to the City of Benton Harbor for public recreation. In 2008, city leaders agreed to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a non-profit developer known as Harbor Shores. The developer converted the land into 3 holes of a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

A group of citizens filed a federal lawsuit claiming environmental rules were violated when the golf course was built. They believe the violations are egregious enough that the lease should be renegotiated or terminated. […]

The group argues the parkland was severely undervalued in the appraisal process. They point out that the land the City of Benton Harbor got in a land swap is contaminated. That contamination wasn’t disclosed before the deal. […]

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the developers of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in Benton Harbor. The course was built on public parkland along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

A group of concerned citizens first filed the lawsuit in 2008. They say federal environmental rules were violated when the golf course was built.

This week the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling issued by a federal judge in Grand Rapids.

More information on this lawsuit is available at the Protect Jean Klock website.

A second lawsuit was filed by members of Save Jean Klock Park. This lawsuit involved the 1917 Klock deed and a 2004 Berrien County Court Consent Judgment that allowed a small portion of property to be developed in exchange for permanent protections of the remaining park property forever. A year ago this past week, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear their case. [In the previous version of this post, I first conflated these two lawsuits into one and then, after “correcting” the post, said that the Michigan Supreme Court denial happened THIS year, not last year.]

On Friday, February 4th the Michigan Supreme Court issued a shocking 6 to 1 decision that there would be no further review of our leave to appeal and ordered our application be denied. The sole reason given in the Court Order (pdf) was, “because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.” The news wasn’t released until Saturday, February 5, 2011.

We are enormously displeased with the court’s decision and feel that aside from Justice Stephen Markman, the court got it tragically wrong. Obviously Justice Markman agrees with our arguments as in the Court Order he made direct statements in his dissenting opinion in reference to our arguments:

“…I believe that the City’s use of Jean Klock Park, by leasing portions of it for 105 years to a private commercial entity, the Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment, Inc., for its use as a golf course, constitutes a breach of faith … Although the City prevails today, it, and other communities throughout our state, may well come out losers tomorrow as later generations of philanthropists look at the legacy of J. N. and Carrie Klock and come to question the faithfulness of government in upholding their intentions after they too have passed. I respectfully dissent.”
– Justice Stephen Markman

Interestingly, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette decided to weigh in on the issue, sending an Amicus Brief (pdf) to the court the same day of the appellants’ hearing. This is of particular interest since Jeff Fettig, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Whirlpool Corporation held a reception for Schuette the summer of 2010 when he was running for Attorney General. One wonders if Jeff Fettig’s friendship with AG Schuette played a role in his otherwise puzzling intervention on their behalf.

More information on the history of this litigation can be found at the Save Jean Klock Park website and the Save Jean Klock Park Facebook page.

More recently, Carol Drake of Save Jean Klock Park wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald Palladium asking why the entrance to the park was gated.

[W]hy is JKP locked up? The Klock deed says, “At all times (the park) shall be open for the use or benefit of the public.” The lease agreement with Harbor Shores says, “Shall include the public use of trails and golf cart paths located within the Leased Premises for non-motorized winter activities.” And the attorney general’s charitable trust recommendations included the following guidelines: “Encourage public use of the park land on which the course is located during the off-season (and) Insure that the park remains open and inviting to all persons.” And why would the so-called “centerpiece” of the Harbor Shores development be open for only one season? I thought the whole point was to attract people to live, work and play here.

It’s been suggested that the parking lots are buried in sand and you can’t drive in. Not true – sand management has been ongoing and the parking lots and drives are clear. Even if there was drifted sand, you could enter at your own risk and if crazy enough to get stuck, you could call a tow truck. There’s other speculation that JKP is closed because of potential vandalism. Not a valid reason, as vandalism could be performed by anyone who walks in – bringing me to my next point.

The only way to access JKP is to walk in. There’s hardly a park along the shoreline that is not vehicle accessible other than JKP. Roadside Park in Hagar, Hagar Park, Rocky Gap, Tiscornia, Silver Beach, Lions Park and Weko Beach are all fully accessible and are all being utilized. Someone recently said they believe JKP is closed because Benton Harbor residents don’t use it during the winter months. I can say with certainty that this is false, and under current circumstances a city resident couldn’t use the park because the city is too far removed from the lakefront for its residents to realistically walk to JKP. The only ones fortunate to walk to and use JKP are those from the adjacent communities of St. Joe city and Benton Township.

Because I have been personally involved and have long fought for access to JKP (www.savejeanklockpark.org), I find this unacceptable. Whether some agreed to it or not, the citizens of Benton Harbor lost 21 acres of public parkland for three holes of a privately owned golf course. What remains is still their land and they should have full access year-round. It is not fair to the people of Benton Harbor, not fair to the rest of us, and without a doubt it is not fair to the children that John and Carrie Klock dedicated this park to as a memorial for their daughter.

[Photo credit: Save Jean Klock Park]

ABC News looked into it and what they found is both entirely puzzling and amusing.

Some are feeling in locked out in Benton Harbor. Jean Klock Park is supposed to be open to the public during the day but the gates at the entrance are locked.

The City of Benton Harbor said the park is open but visitors should drive around the gates.

“I thought it was closed,” said Art Lynch, a former Benton Harbor resident. “I thought it was closed for the season actually.” […]

“They’re not supposed to be locked,” said Carol Drake, founder of ‘Save Jean Klock Park’. Drake recently lost an appeal in a lawsuit filed against the city over land use of the park.

The sign at the gate reads “Park open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.” The ‘0’ on the ’10 p.m.’ had been taped over.

Drake said the sign is misleading when the gates are closed and the park is supposed to be open.

According to Emergency Manager Order 11-28, between October 1st and April 30th the park will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“It’s not closed to cars. Cars are simply being driven around the gate which is perfectly fine.” Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris said in an email to ABC 57 Wednesday afternoon.

Uh, Joe? Really? That’s your answer? “Yeah, it’s locked up but you can just drive around the gate”??? Holy cats, that is an amazing answer. Actually, it’s an amazingly stupid answer. Here’s an idea: why don’t you just unlock the gates?

You can view video of ABC’s reporting HERE. There are additional photos of the locked up park along with signs actually telling you NOT to drive off the pavement at the bottom of Protect Jean Klock Park’s website.