By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Five City Council candidates discussed issues facing the city at a public forum Sept. 21 hosted by the League of Women Voters Dearborn/Dearborn Heights.
Of those candidates, two are incumbents and three are seeking office on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Voters will select three candidates from the five running for a four-year term.
Current Councilors Lisa Hicks-Clayton, 50, and Ned Apigian, 77, are completing their first term after being elected in 2011 and 2009, respectively.
Newcomers Troy Brown, 49; Ray Muscat, 61; and Wassim Abdallah, 49, have been residents in the city for 16 years, 50 years and 15 years, respectively.
Hicks-Clayton has worked as an educator and administrator for 23 years while Apigian runs his own architect firm in Dearborn Heights.
Brown works as a controls engineer, Muscat spent 42 years working at Ford Motor Co. and Adballah has been selling real estate for 30 years.
During the forum, held in the council chambers, candidates were asked questions about public safety, publishing notices, blight, charter amendments and union contract negotiations. Each candidate was given one minute to answer.
The first question of the night centered on issues with public safety in the city.
Brown said the city should continue applying for grants, but wants to see an improved response time by police. Muscat also agreed with Brown regarding response times and also said he wants to see police officers patrolling neighborhoods more.
Hicks-Clayton wants to see the Police Department partner with neighborhood associations to connect with residents, and an equipment upgrade for the Police and Fire departments.
Abdullah said he would like to see more drive-bys by police and less speed monitoring as well as more officers involved in the schools. Finally, Apigian wants to see the Police and Fire departments get to full staff to better serve the community.
When asked about blight within the city, the candidates had their own opinions on how to address the issue.
Hicks-Clayton there there are 5,000 rental properties in the city. She said she thinks enforcement is the biggest issue when it comes to blight and also wants to see more residents using applications provided by the city to communicate with the Ordinance Department.
Abdallah wants to see less rental properties and focus on monitoring of certificate of occupancy as well as enforcement on registration. He also suggested a phone number residents can call to report those issues.
Apigian agreed with Hicks-Clayton, saying enforcement is the city’s biggest issue. He said the city has three full-time and one part-time ordinance officers compared to Dearborn’s 40 ordinance officers.
Brown said blight is an issue because renters are not stakeholders in the houses or neighborhoods they live in, so properties are filled with blight.
Muscat, said the blight issue in the city is what first brought him to council meetings and said when an issue is reported it needs to be taken care of immediately.
The five candidates were asked their opinion on the idea of merging both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights into one city.
Brown, Muscat, Hicks-Clayton and Abdallah all rejected the idea while Apigian said, “Yes. That’s not a bad idea.”
Each candidate was given one minute to make a closing statement at the end of the forum.
“We really need to focus on looking at the charter we currently have,” Apigian said.
Abdallah said he wanted to see more economic development in the city. “There are major streets without businesses,” he said. “Those businesses bring people into the neighborhoods and raise property values.”
“I want to continue as a public servant for the city and its residents,” Hicks-Clayton said.
Brown said the flood of August 2014 thrusted him to run for a council seat.
“As a skills engineer, I know how to identify problems and work to find solutions,” he said.
Raymond emphasized the importance of listening to the residents.
“They pay for everything,” he said. “We need to understand their needs and wants.”
Also mentioned at the forum was the Dearborn Heights District 7 technology bond proposal, and the proposal to approve a charter amendment that will be on the ballot in November.
The district hopes to get the technology bond approved after it was rejected by voters in February to allow for $4.6 million in upgrades.
If approved, the charter amendment would require items published by the city to be posted online, published in a newspaper or both.
The general election will take place on Nov. 3 and poles will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for residents. The final day to register to vote for the election is Oct. 5.
For more information on the election, candidates or proposals go to vote411.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])