Muskegon Heights mayor touts ‘new normal’ in annual speech

Mayor Kim Sims talked crime, community involvement, health

Muskegon Heights Mayor Kim Sims
Muskegon Heights Mayor Kim Sims gives her State of the City address on Jan. 30, 2017.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Muskegon Heights Mayor Kim Sims emphasized a “new normal” in her State of the City address Monday night.

That idea, she said, means writing a new narrative for the city, which for years has struggled with high crime, poverty, lack of economic growth and failing schools.

But 2016 was a year of changes for the Heights. It hired City Manager Jacob Eckholm from Stanton, named Joseph Thomas Jr. its official police chief and lowered crime rates.

“We are turning the corner. The more progressive policing that we’re doing is giving the ends to make a difference,” Sims said.

According to Michigan State Police crime statistics compiled for Secure Cities, a partnership that provides funding for cities with high crime and poverty rates, homicides were down in Muskegon Heights last year — there were four in 2015 and one in 2016.

However, violent crimes increased by 8 percent, mainly due to an 87 percent increase in robberies. There were 23 robberies in 2015 and 43 in 2016.

The property crime rate decreased by 35 percent. According to Chief Thomas, shots fired complaints are also down. And Sims noted in her speech the department was able to track down a cold case suspect.Thomas said that case involved criminal sexual conducts and assaults dating back to 1986 that contributed to the spike in violent crime.

Sims said the city plans to capitalize on the lowered crime rate by investing $100,000 in the police department to hire an additional officer, add new equipment and undertake renovations. She said the city is also encouraging residents to be watchdogs for unwanted behavior.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right — a car parked in the wrong place, somebody who’s been standing somewhere too long, whatever — call. Call the police,” Sims said.

She also mentioned the Police Athletic Little League — back this year for the first time in 15 years — in which police officers coach kids.

The city is also investing in its fire department, adding back two full-time firefighters who were laid off in 2016. Additionally, there have been much-needed road repairs, the city has a full staff and leaders are encouraging community members to be engaged in local government.

But the city also has some serious health issues it plans to work on in 2017.

“Our hypertension is off the charts. Our diabetes is off the charts. And I’m going to say our mental health isn’t good as well,” Sims said.

She said the city will be holding a series of town halls on those issues.

The future of the city’s high school is in question, too. Earlier this month, the state released a list of underperforming schools that could close, and Muskegon Heights Academy was on it. Last week, parents received a letter from the state saying the high school may be shut down.

>>PDF: Letter to parents 

In a town hall after the State of the City address, Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said that there has been growth and that the school’s grading system alone isn’t an accurate measure of student performance.

“Education is not measured on one data point. Education is about the attendance of the student, about the growth of each student from year to year,” Zachery-Ross said.

She plans to testify Tuesday to a state Senate subcommittee on that issue.