On November 8th, the voters in the City of Saginaw will have the opportunity to elect up to five new members of the Saginaw City Council. The terms of five council members - Mayor Pro Tem Amos O'Neal, Dan Fitzpatrick, Amanda Kitterman-Miller, William Scharffe and Paul Virciglio expire this year. Virciglio, Scharffe and Kitterman-Miller have said they will not seek re-election.
A field of eight candidates have filed that include: Ernie Mitchell Ahmad, Annie Boensch, Norman Braddock, Willie Casey, Dan Fitzpatrick, Floyd Kloc, Don Merrill, and Amos O'Neal.
In the hopes of developing an informed electorate, The Review presents this in-depth candidate forum. Questions were submitted to all candidates and the following five responded in time for our deadline.
Review: Please give us some brief background on your accomplishments and why you are running for City Council?
Boensch: I am a 30-year-old stay-at-home mother of two and college student. I have been an Americorp Vista Volunteer and worked for and volunteered with various local campaigns for area candidates and non-profit groups. I am running for City Council because I feel that it is my responsibility to be actively involved in the community in which I live. I envision our city as being one where families look forward to raising their children, children who will then grow and plant their own roots here.
Braddock: I am a lifelong resident of the City of Saginaw and currently serve on the Saginaw Public Schools Board of Education. I have been on the Board for the past 12 years. I also serve as Board Secretary for the Saginaw Promise Authority and was appointed to that board by then Speaker of the House Andy Dillon. I am President and Co-Chair of the Bridge Center for Racial Harmony and the Immediate Past President of the Great Lakes Bay Manufacturer's Association. My day job is that of Director of Quality and Business Development for SVRC Industries, Inc., a private not for profit organization that provides job opportunities for people with barriers to employment. Before that I was a local business owner for 12 years in the city that provided jobs for more than 500 people. I am running for City Council to help accomplish the goals I address in your following question.
Casey: I am a Pastor, a native of Saginaw and life long resident. I attended Saginaw public schools and graduated from SHS in 1972. I married my 8th grade girlfriend and was married 29 years until her death in March of 2002. I remarried in 2009 to Ida Neely. I have two daughters and 6 grand children from my first marriage and 1 great grandchild, two daughters and 3 grandchildren from my present marriage. I received an earned Doctorate in Theology from The Full Gospel Christian Bible College. I retired from General Motors with 25.5 years of service and I am a UAW member Local 467. I worked with families & children impacted by incarceration with Big Brothers Big Sister trained by MANY an MCP Support Center. I have 21 years uninterrupted service as pastor at New Beginning Christian Church and am a past member on the Board of Directors at Habitat for Humanity.
I am running for City Council because I want to represent the entire community and I believe the entire community deserves the right to be heard and responded by someone who stands up for everyone. Saginaw has a rich history and I desire to be part of the team that will help revitalize the city of Saginaw.
Kloc: I have been a private practice attorney since 1988. Before that, I was Saginaw's Chief Assistant City Attorney for 9 years. I am a member and twice past president of the Historical Society of Saginaw County, a 32-year member and past president of the Saginaw Kiwanis Club, vice president of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Association, a Kiwanis Foundation board member, and a Saginaw P.R.I.D.E member. I will bring experience, perspective, and thoughtful consideration, as well as institutional memory, to the City Council. As an ardent City supporter, I will bring enthusiasm, energy and commitment to making the City an attractive community again.
O'Neal: I received my Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Northwood University and have over 2000 hours of at-risk and leadership training. I am a current City Council member and founder of Parishioners on Patrol and Co-Chair of Cities of Promise Task Force, a member of the Board of Trustees on the Michigan Municipal League, and Chairman of Region 4 Michigan Municipal League.
My reasons for running are to continue working with the law enforcement community to address crime and violence in Saginaw. Also, I bring a great deal of experience that the council will need as we move into a tough financial time during the 2012-13-budget cycle.
Review: What are your top 3 goals for improving the City?
Boensch: First, adequately funding public safety. Second, make city government more accessible for citizens and businesses. Third, create a community of caring by leading by example.
Braddock: Number 1, I want to be a strong advocate for improving the economic environment in the City of Saginaw, One way of doing that is the implementation of the Saginaw Promise, which is an Economic Development Project. I want Saginaw to retain and attract new businesses because we have a business friendly environment.
Number 2, I want to reduce the tax burden on individual citizens by expanding the tax base as a result of improving the economic environment.
Number 3, I want to make Saginaw the safest city in the State of Michigan by using the latest technology and best practices; and as our population grows, increase the number of firemen and police we have on the streets. I must add that I don't understand how we can turn firemen into policemen and vice versa and have an effective public safety system.
Casey: My top three goals are: #1 to assure business owners that Saginaw is the best place to develop and locate their business. #2 to make the relationship strong between the Saginaw community and our Public Safety personnel. #3 to help every citizen in the city of Saginaw know what it means to take ownership as citizens to do their part to make Saginaw a better city.
Kloc: First, to develop a more positive image for the City, expand community policing, foster the neighborhood watch groups that are taking back their neighborhoods, and focus on our cultural, art, entertainment and historical attractions. They are the best mix of such assets of any community in the region,
Second, work with the Saginaw Public School District to promote the Saginaw Promise as a core development tool.
Third, work with the business community to continue development of the proposed medical school and residential and business areas to service it.
O'Neal: My top three goals are to first, continue to work address public safety issues; second, work to bring federal dollars in for badly needed local street repair; and third to work with the business community to attract jobs
Review: This year Council passed a new $165.00 annual rubbish fee that purportedly replaced a 3-mil property tax assessment and was done to more evenly among residents that use the service, yet actually gives a big break to anybody who's taxable assessment value is higher than $38,333 and also takes in $1,606,477.50 more than the city pays MMWA for a majority of the services provided by the fee. Saginaw Township pays less and also has recycling. Was this a wise move seeing as Saginaw is also one of the highest taxed cities in the Great Lakes Bay Area? What incentives do businesses and landlords have to move into the city?
Boensch: I don't feel that it was a wise move to replace the rubbish mil with this annual fee. The citizens in Saginaw have been facing financial difficulties right along with everyone else. Now is not the time to shift the burden to those of us with the lowest taxable property values. Had I been on Council at the time I would have supported raising the fee from $50.00 to $70.00 and keeping the mil in place. I fear that changes like these do nothing to encourage people to stay here and one of the biggest challenges we face is our decreasing population and decreased tax base. If the change was made in an effort to spread the cost more equitably, variable rate trash collection options could have been considered.
Braddock: No, I don't think this was a wise move. I think it puts those who can least afford to pay the fee at an unfair disadvantage, especially since the change caused those who can most afford to pay at an advantage. We need to create more incentives not only for business and landlords to move into the city, but also families with children and senior citizens. We need to stop talking about River Front Development and actually do it. The only River Front Development to happen in the past 10 years was done by the Shaheen Family with the MCVI project. Otherwise it has been almost non-existent.
Casey: To answer this question properly I would need the see and study the same data that was used to come to the conclusion of those who made that decision. There is enough division among civic leaders, management and those who govern our city. My giving an opinion would not be fair to myself or to those who currently serve without proper documentation. I don't want to be given my opinion. I'd rather know the facts.
(Editor's note: These are the facts).
Kloc: First, these figures leave out the significant fact that the City needs some of the money raised by the fee for the services it provides, like composting. Second, recycling is in the works as part of the expected MMWA services through the City. This should contribute to a substantial reduction in dump fees and may raise some income for the system which could prevent future cost increases or even provide fee reductions if enough people recycle. I strongly believe in recycling. So yes, I think it will prove to be a wise move in the long run. We have to stop continually thinking only in the short term if we are ever to turn the City around. If we can do that, it would be its own reward/incentive to businesses and landlords. (Editor's Note: Composting only takes up $528,087 of the $1,606,477 additional revenue realized by this new fee. $166,375 is budgeted for recycling).
O'Neal: Yes, it was wise. The additional revenue generated will be used to shore up other areas in the organization. Example, police & fire services. Also, we will have citywide recycling at no additional cost to the taxpayer. (Editor's Note: Legally, you're not supposed to divert dedicated funds to other areas.)
Review: How do you feel about criticism that the council has been a rubber stamp for city manager Earley?
Boensch: I understand how it might appear to some that the council has been a “rubber stamp” for City Manager Earley. As the sole employee of the City Council, the city manager needs to bring a great deal of expertise to the job that the average council member may not have. However, I feel that it is the responsibility of each councilperson to inform themselves on the issues and not rely solely on the recommendation of the City Manager. There is a vast difference being an informed representative of the citizens and micro-managing. With our City Manager form of government, it is essential that there is a balance of power with the citizens knowing that they, truly, have the ear of the Council.
Braddock: I think to some extent this has been true, however, being a sitting school board member for the past 12 years, I can understand how that can happen. In politics there is the meeting before the meeting, the meeting, and then the meeting after the meeting. Before the meeting, board of city council members get together without violation of the Open Meetings Act to lobby each other on potential chief executive recommendations and try to reach a consensus that will ultimately go to the meeting. When there is very little discussion at the meeting it's because a lot of discussion has gone on behind the scenes with the manager and other council or board members. After the meeting there is more discussion about the reaction from the audience and the press and whether or not you took into consideration some of the public comment at the meeting. Typically, a city manager will not bring forward any recommendation that he has not fully discussed with his council members in advance of the meeting, and taken their thoughts into consideration in order to get the kind of outcomes that he expects. Ultimately, the council is responsible for results of any decisions they approve based upon the recommendation of the manager.
Casey: I cannot comment on criticism on the council being a rubber stamp for the City manager without all involved in the same and discussing this issue.
Kloc: I'm not yet able to judge for myself. If the reason for the criticism is because the council is no longer bickering with or challenging the manager at every turn, I don't see that as either bad or rubber stamping. A council that is thoughtful, reviews the facts, considers the options, then decides that what the manager has proposed is the best path after all, is not rubber stamping, it is doing what it is supposed to do.
Dissent for the sake of appearances is pure politicking, nothing more. If, however, the critics can show that the manager is leading council by the nose on everything, with no evidence of independent thought, than they are probably right.
O'Neal: I'm not concerned about that criticism. Just looking around the state you can see the condition of other cities. Saginaw has made some very important decisions to put us in a solid position. Council receives information from the manager and his staff then council makes the decision. We have good processes for making decisions that are consistent with our planning.