Berrien County honors Buchanan’s Schuhknecht

Published 2:08 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Commissioners took time out of their schedule Thursday to honor Buchanan native and Miss Michigan Maya Schuhknecht with an honorary resolution. Maya recently competed in the 2024 Miss America pageant and won a talent award for her speed painting.

As the resolution noted, the current Miss Michigan began her pageant run in 2019 when she was First Runnerup to Miss Buchanan, Miss Spirit of Blossomtime and Miss Congeniality in that year’s Miss Blossomtime contest. She won the Miss Michigan crown last June. Academically, she graduated from Michigan State University last spring with a degree in graphic design.

“Whereas, she shares often that you can come from a small town and do big things and urges young women to chase after their dreams, and whereas, she has represented our county and our state well at the national level and it is appropriate to recognize those that make great contributions to their community and have achieved great success.”

The county board resolution concluded with recognition of her success and wishing her well in her future endeavors.

“Maya Schuhknecht’s life, actions, and contributions reflect most favorably upon herself, her family, the community of Buchanan, Berrien County, the State of Michigan and the United States of America.”  

“This is lovely,” Maya told commissioners.

“I love being from a small town and being the first Miss Michigan from Southwest Michigan in a very long time … I had a very hard year of adversity, I lost my father two months before I won Miss Michigan and was at MSU when the mass shooting took place.”

“The arts have always been something for me to be myself,” she added.

“I advocate for the arts to be something for everyone to enjoy. I love doing it as Maya, Miss Michigan and a small town girl from Buchanan. I’m super honored to be here today.”

County Commissioner Teri Freehling talked about how remarkable Maya’s achievement was.

“I want to statistically talk about how remarkable it is to have a Miss Michigan from Southwest Michigan,” she said. “You have a greater chance of being in the NFL than you do of being on stage for Miss America. It’s a remarkable feat and something she should be very proud of.”

Thursday’s Committee of the Whole and Board of Commissioners meetings featured discussion and action on several topics including the first grant awards from the county’s opioid settlement funds. The county board approved

Berrien County Health Officer Guy Miller went through the grant process at the Committee of the Whole meeting. The county is getting $8.6 million over 16 years, including $750,000 annually for the next five years to fund treatment and prevention programs to fight opioid addiction.

The county set up a taskforce to start the process last May of developing requests for proposals. A review committee then met over the last few weeks to evaluate the six proposals received and recommend two for funding. An oversight committee will now take over to make sure the funding is spent properly.

The organizations/programs being funded in this first round of settlement funding are the First Church of God which will be getting $420,112 and Sacred Heart which will be getting $484,286 for the three-year initial funding cycle.

The awarding of the grant funds to the two entities didn’t sit well with some in the audience. Former County Commissioner Marletta Seats and other Benton Harbor area officials questioned why Benton Harbor based organizations didn’t get funding and how proposals were evaluated.

“We scored the lowest in the evaluation of proposals even though we have the longest standing program besides the health department,” Seats said of a program she helps run. “The Benton Harbor area isn’t really covered with the programs getting funding. Are we determining who lives and who dies by a scoring system?”

Commissioners didn’t make public comments about the opioid funding but did debate the merits of approving a resolution in support of efforts to repeal the new state renewable energy siting laws. People are currently circulating petitions to get a ballot proposal on the November ballot to restore local control of wind and solar energy projects.

County Commissioners Chokwe Pitchford and Rayonte Bell didn’t like the original resolution wording which stated support for the statewide Citizens for Local Choice initiative to get on the November ballot. While the majority of commissioners didn’t have a problem with the resolution language, the two sentences specifically referring to the ballot initiative were removed.

The county board went on record last fall against the renewable energy legislation before it passed and was signed into law. The law goes into effect this November and takes control over large wind and solar projects away from local governments and gives decision making power to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Pitchford and Bell said they were in favor of local control but didn’t want to endorse the ballot initiative before they collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. They felt it would set a precedent for the county board.

Other commissioners disagreed and pointed to the support from the Michigan Association of Counties for the ballot initiative. Commissioner Julie Wuerfel quoted the executive director of the MAC who called the renewable energy law ill conceived and counter to the interests of good governance in the state.

In other action, commissioners approved grants and a $50,560 contract with Peterson & VandenBerg Environmental of Nunica, Mich. to prepare a permit to submit to the state for dredging of the St. Joseph River in the Twin Cities. That area of the river hasn’t been dredged for several years and the river is becoming unnavigable in places. Private parties using the river will then have to raise the funds to do the actual dredging.