The Daily News continues ranking top stories of the year

Published 9:46 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

DOWAGIAC — In the last year, our newspapers have covered stories of heartbreak, warmth and triumph. As 2018 draws to a close, our newsroom will be taking a look back at some of those stories and the most memorable events of the last year in Dowagiac and Cass County as we count down the 10 stories of the year, as determined by our staff. We will recap several stories per day over the next several issues.

7. Pokagon Band sees new developments

The year 2018 saw new developments for many across Cass County, and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians was no exception. This year, the tribe began work on several projects that have been on the horizon, including a $25 million expansion project, which will bring two new facilities to its Rodger’s Lake Campus in Dowagiac.

Earlier this year, the tribe broke ground on an extension to Pokagon Health Services — which will double its dental and behavior health spaces — and a new Justice Center that will house Tribal Court and the Tribal Police Department. To add to the construction, the Pokagon Band is also reconfiguring its water system from multiple wells to a centralized water system, which tribal officials say will aid the Pokagon Band’s growth.

“It’s exciting that we are in the place where we are able to do this and provide these things for our citizens,” Government Manager Jason Wesaw told the Dowagiac Daily News in September. “Now is just the right time.”

The tribe also extended its educational services by opening Zagbëgon Academy, the Pokagon Band’s first preschool, in September. The school focuses on teaching young students Pokagon culture and language in addition to other educational building blocks. Organizers with the academy have said the school is already a success and that they hope to one day expand by having the tribe open an elementary school.

“This is the first step. We will see in a few years how successful this becomes and measure our goals, and based on that, the tribal council may expand [to continuing education],” said Sam Morseau, director of education for the Pokagon Band, in October.

6. Historic courthouse makes movements, stands still

Cass County’s historic courthouse, located in the heart of Cassopolis, has long been a topic of discussion, and perhaps sparked more debate than usual in 2018.

In early November, the Cass County Board of Commissioners was scheduled to take a step forward on the courthouse by voting on two resolutions: one to retain ownership of the courthouse for the purpose of restoring it and another to sell or otherwise transfer ownership or lease the courthouse to the Cass County Economic Development Corporation or a nonprofit started by the EDC. The EDC previously proposed to the board that it would form a nonprofit corporation to raise money to restore the historic building into a multipurpose facility with space for offices and retail businesses.

However, both resolutions were voted down during a contentious meeting that left some county residents frustrated and upset.

“I’m just so disappointed that nothing has happened,” said Cass County resident Zane Lankford after the meeting. Lankford is a representative with Friends of the Courthouse, a group that is advocating of the EDC to take ownership of the courthouse. “We are just in another state of limbo.”

Currently, the county retains ownership of the courthouse, and it is undetermined when the courthouse will again be brought up for a vote.

5. Elections shake things up

The 2018 midterm elections brought about change for the state of Michigan. From electing new officials to state and local offices to the passage of not one, but three voter-initiated proposals, it is safe to say that the election shook things up.

For Dowagiac and Cass County, The Dowagiac Daily News has identified three game-changing, front-page earning election results to feature here.

• Dowagiac Library millage passes — In November’s election, a millage that will bring large-scale improvements to the library was adopted by a vote of 2,339 to 2,112. The proposal had previously appeared on the August primary ballot, ultimately failing by a vote of 891 to 820.

The millage, a 1 mill, which means that $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value on a property or home within the library district will be collected, will be used to nearly double the space of the library by adding an addition to the back side of the structure. More meeting rooms will be added, in addition to special quiet spaces, teen spaces and vending areas. A more convenient outside book drop and a space that can be accessed after hours will also be added. The final stage of the renovation will involve removing the front of the library to restore it to a 1904 Carnegie style.

• Commissioner recount ousts incumbent — In the August primary election, Milton Township Supervisor Robert Benjamin beat out incumbent Robert Ziliak for the District 5 Cass County Commissioner seat by a single vote. Less than a week later, a “mystery” ballot was found in a voting machine, which could have tied up the votes. As the “mystery” ballot was cast in Benjamin’s favor, it did not tie up the votes, but both Ziliak and Benjamin said they felt the need for a recount in such a close election. In a September recount, Benjamin was confirmed the winner by a count of 327 to 321. Benjamin ran uncontested in the November general election.

• Recreational marijuana blazes forward — In one of the most controversial and anticipated votes of the year, recreational marijuana was legalized in the state of Michigan and won the majority in both Cass and Berrien counties. Though advocates of recreational marijuana are still celebrating their victory, the state still has a long journey ahead before recreational marijuana facilities can begin to operate. In the new year, local municipalities will need to consider what, if any, facilities they will allow within their limits.