Legal Lesson Hits Home

September 8, 2008
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It's time to look closely in the mirror for those who control the people's purse. According to one plugged-in legal eagle, the evident resolution of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's debacle (for now) should send a clear signal to officials in all levels of government: It's vital to Michigan's long-term economic viability that corruption won't be tolerated and rules and laws will be applied equitably across the board.

Peter A. Letzmann, a long-time municipal law expert and adjunct professor of law at GrandValleyStateUniversity, told the Business Journal that Kilpatrick's legal episode has certainly tainted the image of the state, at no small cost to taxpayers. He believes the saga also has brought an economic toll as businesses move out and stay away due in part to the uncertainty government officials' greed might have on a successful commercial operation in this state.

"This is a wake up call to not only the folks in Detroit that when corruption confronts us we will deal with it quickly and efficiently, using and respecting rules and laws that are already on the books or that need to be strengthened," said Letzmann, who worked for the city of Detroit's legal department in the 1970s and has served for 17 years as city attorney for the city of Troy.

Letzmann said he has already used the Detroit case in his coursework for GVSU students as a "case study of how these things evolve and how to deal with them."

As past president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys and the past chair of the Michigan Municipal League's defense fund, Letzmann urges such associations as well as local and state governments of all types to "re-examine procedures regarding misconduct, whistle-blowers and misuse of public funds." He is leading a seminar for the MML at the end of October that deals with ethics and conflict of interest issues. "Nothing can be gained in beating up Detroit over this issue but their example certainly can be used to pinpoint how" such cases evolve.

"We need to get the word out far and wide to the business community in particular that government misconduct won't be tolerated or that they will be expected to pay a corruption tax if they locate here," Letzmann noted. "It can't be a matter of just moving on. We have to give these concerns more than the usual lip service."

  • John Hyatt of John S. Hyatt and Associates, a Grand Rapids company that works with theatrical productions in West Michigan, said if it's a real Hollywood movie, it has to involve the Stagehands Union.

That must mean "The Steam Experiment" is the real thing — the first genuine Hollywood-type movie to be filmed in Grand Rapids as a result of the new film industry incentive payments available from the Michigan treasury. Amway Grand Hotel officials welcomed production crews with open arms last week.

Stasia Savage, business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 26, also known as the West Michigan Stagehands union, said that about 20 of the group's 115 members were under contract for "Steam."

The Stagehands local was founded in 1894. Its core business today is the Van Andel Arena and

DeVos Place
, but some of the local's members have worked on real movies in West Michigan before, most recently "American Pie II," "Road to Perdition, and "Kalamazoo?"

Word of the cameras rolling is welcome news to industry watchers.

"The Fifth Mafia," an independent film that expected to star Joe Mantegna,James Van DerBeek, William Forsythe, and Armand Assante, was supposed to start shooting in GR this summer but is on hold.

Another movie that would star Samuel L. Jackson was supposedly set to be shot here but apparently is already on the cutting-room floor.

At least one production really did happen already in Grand Rapids as a result of the state incentives: a part of a "reality" television show about the work of fire fighters was shot here in August. But that was a television show and "The Steam Experiment" is a feature film, aka movie.

Anthony Wenson, head of the state government's Michigan Film Office, said last week that so far about "four or five" incentive-prompted movies have been completed, another four or five are in production (mainly in southeast Michigan) and another four or five are in pre-production. But there are about 60 in all now that have been given the go-ahead by the Michigan Film Office.

  • The move of his son's store, Herkner Jewelers, is the end of an era, says local stockbroker Marvin Dice, who bought the downtown icon in 1990, from out-of-town descendants of the store's founder, and since has turned it over to his son, Randall. "You have new things coming up, if you see downtown, the new apartment buildings, condos, new hotels going up, but that is more or less conducive, in our view, to the evening life. Does that bring people downtown, that because of that, they want to shop at Herkner's? We don't see it," says the elder Dice.

Dice is sad to be leaving Herkner's home of 141 years. "It's bittersweet," he said. "We struggled a long time with this."

Still, Dice is excited by the prospect of easy highway access, a busy retail and restaurant area, convenient parking and 50,000 cars a day passing Herkner's new location on East Beltline Avenue NE. "For convenience and accessibility, I think it's going to be a joy," said Dice, a longtime resident of northeast Kent County.

  • REVUE magazine's September 2008 edition hits newsstands this week, but with two different covers — one more conservative and a second a bit more bold.  When people pick up REVUE magazine in a coffee shop, bookstore or restaurant this month, they'll see a cover that features a cookie-monster looking puppet from the musical Avenue Q, which is coming to Grand Rapids this month. But if they pick it up in a bar, they'll see a slightly more risqué cover featuring a buxom blonde puppet (another Avenue Q character named "Lucy the Slut") with a puppet martini in hand.

REVUE apparently is trying to be a little edgy… and celebrating the fact that Broadway Grand Rapids was being a little edgy itself in bringing Avenue Q to town.  It won the Tony Award, but it's also a little more adventurous than the typical Broadway show that plays in Grand Rapids. (Don't plan to bring the kids to the show.)

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