By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — Team politics and city pensions are among the issues in a mayor’s race that pits incumbent Cameron Priebe against one-term City Councilman Jeffrey Lamarand.
The 40-year-old challenger for the four-year term is a resident of some 33 years. A teacher at Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights, he and his wife have one child.
Lamarand is a Taylor Center High School graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. His several board appointments have included the city’s Tax Increment Financing Authority and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
The 58-year-old mayor is a former city police officer and one-term council member (1979 to 1981) and also held his current job from 1981 to 1997 before running and winning again in 2005. He and his wife have two children and four grandchildren.
Priebe is a graduate of Kennedy High School and has taken classes at Madonna University, Monroe County Community College and Wayne County Community College District.
Lamarand said he is running because he’s seen how things operate during his council term and wants to take a different approach and keep a better eye on taxpayers’ money. One thing he disagrees with is the “team” concept, under which a mayoral candidate runs along with several candidates for the council or other city posts. He believes that method, which Priebe has used and is using for Tuesday’s election, has resulted in cronyism and politically motivated appointments to city jobs that are costing taxpayers money.
Priebe said he sought out his old job in 2005 because there were too many apartments being built in the city, particularly the low-income variety. His primary issue in this campaign is trying to reform Police and Fire department pensions so they become more affordable for the city.
The pensions currently are “outrageously generous,” Priebe said, and after only “a minimal amount of time.”
“We’re retiring at $70,000 to $80,000 a year after only 17 to 20 years,” he said. “The absolute minimum should be 25 years. UAW workers retire at about half that and work 30 years to get it.”
Priebe said he has been “pushing real hard” to revise state Public Act 312 to eliminate police and firefighters ability to go on strike and allow arbitrators to give awards based on cities’ ability to pay. He also is seeking union pay cuts.
Workers have resisted statewide efforts to change the act, and Priebe said he understands.
“If I was them, I would want that,” he said, “but from city’s point of view we have to have (the change).”
If that happens and union contracts can be adjusted, Priebe said, he believes the 6 mills currently paid by residents for the pensions alone can be reduced by 2 almost immediately, for a savings of $150 per resident and by another mill, or about $75, after two years.
“Maybe even more in the future,” he said.
Lamarand believes high pensions given to some of Priebe’s political appointees are a bigger cost to residents, and said he would work to reduce the number of appointees and use the money to put more police and firefighters on streets.
Priebe called Lamarand a “lightweight” when it comes to budget issues and has said the number of department heads have been reduced by 44 percent over the last four years. He also has said he would put more officers on streets by doing things like consolidating police and fire dispatch and using civilian employees. He would take advantage of grants and other funding sources and seek union concessions with an eye toward ensuring job security.
Lamarand’s pledge to expand services is “irresponsible” in light of the economic “tsunami” currently hitting the city, Priebe said, adding that the election would be “laughable” if not for Lamarand’s endorsement by local and state police and fire unions.
In defending the team concept, Priebe said it makes sense.
“You may not always agree, but you don’t go out in public and intentionally embarrass each other,” he said. “You fight behind closed doors, not on television.”
Priebe said while Lamarand has disavowed the team concept, “For all practical purposes, he’s running as a team” with other council and city office candidates, saying their lawn signs appear together.
“They’re running as a team and doing everything but being honest about it,” Priebe said.
“Of course,” Lamarand said of his opponent’s allegations. “That’s the only way he knows how to run a campaign. He’s a one-trick pony.”
While acknowledging strong support from the city firefighters’ union, Lamarand said he would pursue greater fiscal transparency in an effort to work with unions, the council and city officials to reduce pensions and help get city finances under control over the long term.
He said that Act 312 already allows arbitration, and that Priebe could have filed for it instead of adding the pension cost millage.
“I want to re-emphasize spending and put a priority on keeping streets safe,” he said, adding that he would seek to reduce the mayoral salary from $103,000 annually to $87,000, eliminate cronyism and reduce other officials’ pay to bring it more in line with cities of comparable size.
As for whether he’s formed a team, Lamarand said, “Nobody else’s campaign is working out of my campaign office. I fully support independent candidates that are out there thinking for themselves.
“I fully believe it’s up to the voters who they want to support. They should have a fair opportunity to evaluate each and every person.”