By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The field of 16 City Council candidates will be reduced to 14 following the Aug. 8 primary, with the remaining candidates vying Nov. 7 for the seven council seats.
Five incumbents – Daniel Bzura, Angela Croft, Charley Johnson, Alex Garza and Tim Woolley – are seeking re-election.
Council Chairwoman Linda Parker-Craig, who was not seeking re-election, resigned from her position effective July 31 following controversy over her alleged move to Grosse Ile Township, despite the city attorney ruling her Taylor apartment satisfied residency requirements. Her replacement was not announced at the Aug. 1 council meeting, which Croft chaired.
John Meyers, who was appointed to the council when Linda Roberts resigned after moving last year, is not seeking re-election.
Other candidates include Tina Daniels, John V. Edwards, Dalton Lee, William McDonald, David J. Mellert, Justin Mordarski, Caroline Patts, Herman “Butch” Ramik, Lindsey Rose, Christopher G. Verdun and Ken Williams.
Candidates were asked three questions, and were given a suggested word limit.
Q: What is the most urgent issue facing the city council and why?
Bzura: Continuing our return to financial health is a must. Our early exit from a deficit elimination plan, improved bond ratings and a growing fund balance are a good start, but we have much work to do going forward in order to continue improving the services we provide to residents.
Croft: I believe the most urgent issue facing council is always the budget. It is council’s primary responsibility to ensure that each city departments is staying within its respective budget and that that the city operates in the black consistently and continually.
Daniels: I believe that all of the issues city council has to deal with are important. Not all residents and homeowners are affected by the same issues. There needs to be honesty, transparency, accountability and efficiency when council conducts business. When it comes to issues that affect our residents they should all be a priority and dealt with respectfully and in a timely manner.
Edwards: Public safety has always been a top priority in my mind, which is one of the reasons I committed 29 years of service to the Taylor Auxiliary Police Department. Fire and Police Department size should follow the fire and police administrators’ recommended personnel needs. Every member of the council is elected to represent the people, and equal weight should be given to each perspective and opinion on any given matter. I want to work toward agreement among the council and make sure we are moving the city forward in the right direction with regard to public safety.
Garza: The most urgent issue facing the city council is continuing to prioritize public safety. I have been an advocate to put public safety first in Taylor. We need to look to ways we can continue to expand and keep the safety of Taylor residents and visitors a priority.
Johnson: Maintaining a balanced budget to keep the city moving forward is the most urgent issue facing the city council.
Lee: The most urgent issue facing the city council is to increase home ownership in the city. We do not need to have any more apartments or rental properties in the city. We already have more than enough, and should not have to take measures in the future to reduce their number as the city has had to do in the past. We need to be a city in which first time home buyers would like to purchase a home, which will help revitalize our wonderful school district. The city needs to make all the neighborhoods safe.
McDonald: What our council needs is a person with strong legislative experience to bring the people’s needs to our government and who will fight for them. We have a mayoral administration that is very pro-business, but it’s time the residents who have been here for 30 years have a representative who makes their voices heard, who makes their issues number one in city hall. We need new blood and a new perspective.
Mellert: Protecting our current business base and promoting “Shop Taylor” is the most urgent issue facing the city council.
Mordarski: The most important issue is the city pension crisis and its impact on property taxes and other areas of the city budget. The city council recently approved new contracts for the Act 345 employees that allows many current employees to continue to use unlimited overtime to “spike” their pensions to over $100,000 a year and retire at a youthful age. This is driving up the pension tax to over $300 for an average home which makes it hard for seniors and others to own homes in the city. It also crowds out spending in other areas like roads and recreation.
Patts: The council members must address the residents’ lack of trust in them. Residents don’t believe the decisions being made are for the good of all residents, and questions posed don’t always receive clear answers.
Ramik: Nothing is more fundamental than safe neighborhoods so families can walk in their city without fear. Taylor business owners also need to feel safe in their establishments. Taylor now has approximately 67 officers, which is down from 105, for city of 24 square miles with a population of 63,000 people. Businesses increase the daytime population by an additional thousand people. Taylor has a surplus of $7 million that can help increase the number of police officers and firefighters in the city.
Rose: We need to reduce our property taxes in Taylor. A recent survey by the state’s Department of Treasury placed Taylor in the top 4 percent of highest city tax rates in the entire state. Even more shocking, Taylor is double the state average. This makes it difficult for new families to buy a house here and for existing residents and seniors to keep their homes. What drives this are pensions that allow some employees (under Act 345) to retire as young as age 40 with a pension of more than $90,000 a year. This is not a sustainable practice, and the council needs to end it.
Verdun: Public safety is a top priority. Taylor is doing a great job getting our fire stations running again, along with our new EMS transports. Our city has already been improving by graduating police officers from the academy and recruiting an auxiliary police force. The job doesn’t stop there. Continued training on safety and the drug and opioid overdose epidemic will benefit our community.
Williams: Infrastructure is very important and needs attention right away. The roads are in bad condition, and the drains are in need of constant monitoring and upkeep.
Woolley: I believe the most import issue facing the council is watching the budget and spending. We are currently coming to the end of some of our grants, which could possibly affect our fund balance. We’ve successfully maintained a conservative budget for the past three years, and we eliminated a $3 million deficit and establishing a $6 million surplus in less than three years. Without the help of our city employees, this would have never been possible.
Q: What other issues do you think the council should prioritize and why?
Bzura: Public safety, recreational opportunities and eliminating blight are at the top of the list. Being safe, having places to participate in healthy activities and maintaining vibrant neighborhoods not only improves the quality of life for residents but also is a means to attract new home buyers to our community.
Croft: I believe the council should review and update several city ordinances. Many things have changed in the years since many of the ordinances were adopted. While I firmly believe ordinances are important to keep uniformity and order in a city, they should never become a financial hardship or an unrealistic burden on the residents the ordinance was instituted to help in the first place.
Daniels: There are multiple things that need to be prioritized. For one, there definitely needs to be transparency when it comes to council activity, and resident participation needs to be encouraged and increased. The dilapidated houses lower property values, creates hazards and are eyesores in the city. Our city ordinances are confusing for residents and need to be updated. The city’s property taxes are at an all-time high. Taylor residents pay one of the highest municipal tax rates in Michigan. We need to lower our property taxes. We also need to continue to improve and maintain all of our parks and recreation facilities for future generations.
Edwards: Attracting new businesses to our community has recently been a focus, but Taylor’s history is that of a residential community that was once a great place for young families to raise children. The city’s population has dropped more than 15 percent since 1995, and that has resulted in declining appearance of homes in the city, declining home values, loss of tax revenue for public services, and so on. We should continue policies that attract business, but do things like improve the way the ordinance department functions so that we get back to valuing the appearance of our city, restoring property values and providing the level of quality public service residents deserve.
Garza: Investing in our neighborhoods is another priority. I believe taking care of Taylor is very important as we continue to move forward as a city. Demolishing blighted/dilapidated structures and securing buildings will be a priority to continue to stabilize our neighborhoods. Another priority is improving our infrastructure in Taylor. We have started this over the last few years and we must continue the progress. Replacing and repairing our roads is important for business and residential growth.
Johnson: I think we should continue to revise the city charter to stop people from taking advantage of weak language.
Lee: The issues that the council should prioritize are to try to make ordinances more clear to the residents. There are issues in the city that could be rectified with residents before giving out ordinance violations. The council should also work with the recreation department to make more recreational activities available to the youth of the city. The city also needs to utilize Heritage Park to its fullest and have more family-friendly events at this wonderful park.
McDonald: An issue brought to my attention by residents is the overbearing use of ordinances and fines by ordinance officers. When a person has lived here for 30 years and takes ill, the city should be willing to work with them instead of ticketing them into the poor house. We need a strong council to stand up for residents and make their needs heard. We can’t just fill the coffers by ticketing all of our residents.
Mellert: The council should continue to revise the city charter to stop people from taking advantage of weak language.
Mordarski: We need to focus on our existing neighborhoods and not on building more condos. The huge condo developments many on council advocate are creating excess supply in our housing stock and hurting property values for current residents. Instead we need to reduce blight and the number of vacant homes, which breed crime. I will also oppose the construction or expansion of more low-income housing projects in Taylor.
Patts: The look of Taylor should be maintained by addressing boarded up buildings, weeds and tall grass, and junk and trash throughout the city. Everyone needs to be proud of this city. If funding is available, we should hire more city fire fighters and police officers. Parks should be kept accessible for all families.
Ramik: Taylor youth are exposed to many alarming risk factors, including youth violence, teen pregnancy, school dropout, and substance abuse. Traditionally, organizations and schools conducted programs to prevent or reduce particular risk factors. We must help our youth feel physically and emotionally safe, with a sense of hope or purpose for their future, and with activities to do in their free time.
Rose: I would like to make city government transparent and accessible to residents. I support a five day public review period, with all supporting documents, for all matters to be voted on by the council. Currently, the city council only provides residents with a one to two page summary agenda, while the full agenda packet is usually more than 200 pages. This agenda packet contains the details of what is really being voted on and it should not be kept from residents. Almost every city in the state shares the full agenda packet with residents, and Taylor is one of the few that does not.
Verdun: Taylor has excellent educational resources. By collaborating more with other local institutions and educators, we improve these resources. Educating our residents of all the Taylor’s resources is not enough. We also have to make these resources accessible to our residents, our seniors, our families and youth who don’t have regular or dependable transportation.
Williams: The police and fire departments need to be right-sized. I believe more officers need to be hired to improve public safety and reduce crime in the city.
Woolley: The council needs to address health care and (pension) legacy costs. Health care costs have risen almost 60 percent in the past three years. Our human resources department has done a great job finding good health care at an affordable cost. Council keeps a very close eye on this expense every year. Over the past three years we negotiated good, fair contracts with our employees, which helps with our legacy costs. This has also allowed the city to change the pension process. Huge pensions are being phased out through negotiations, which will be provide future financial stability.
Q: Why should voters (re)elect you – what makes you a good candidate for the job?
Bzura: Since taking office in 2013, our financial position, our commitment to public safety, and our efforts to eliminate blight in the community have greatly improved. City Council and the Administration continue to conduct City business in an efficient and professional manner. Results have been positive, and I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to four more years of success.
Croft: The combination of my experience and education, coupled with my dedication to the city of Taylor and its residents is what makes me a good candidate for re-election to the Taylor City Council. I have worked in municipal government for nearly 20 years. I have extensive experience in governmental fund accounting, municipal processes and public works, and I have a master’s degree in business administration from Wayne State University.
Daniels: As a homeowner I have been dealing with the city of Taylor concerning the quality of construction on my home. I have seen firsthand the lack of honesty, transparency and due diligence residents can face. Our city was in violation of a law that provides protection and safeguards for homeowners and residents within our city, because Taylor did not have an active Construction Board of Appeals, which is required by law. After getting the runaround for a few months, I remained persistent and the city finally had to comply with the law and put together a Construction Board of Appeals. This allowed me and other residents the opportunity to utilize the safeguards. If elected, I will continue to work hard to improve the city for the residents of Taylor.
Edwards: I am running because I care about the city that I have lived in for my entire life. I have been active in the past, and have kept abreast of council activities and developments in the city. I am not running a campaign based on disparaging the character or motives of other candidates or current council members. I am running because I believe my ideas are important to take us further in the future.
Garza: I am running for re-election because I want to continue the positive work we are doing for the city of Taylor. As a city councilman for the past four years, my experience, education and fresh perspective makes me one of the most qualified candidates for city council.
Johnson: I’ve been involved more than 20 years, and more importantly, I’ve been paying attention and fighting the establishment the whole time. I just didn’t show up four years ago.
Lee: I am interested in representing the people of the city of Taylor. It is time for a change in out city government, and I want to be part of that change. We need to have people elected to council with fresh, new ideas. I believe that I will be able to make a difference. I am dependable and will take decisive action. I will uphold the city charter and will make a total commitment to our city.
McDonald: I am the only candidate who has a public law background and legislative experience. I have fought for student’s rights with university administrators and I have lobbied Lansing congressmen to give students access to additional academic programs and scholarships. That is what we need on our council, a strong voice and strong leadership, someone who will stand up and make sure residents’ needs are made the most important.
Mellert: I’ve been a community activist for more than 20 years, and have the knowledge, education, experience and energy to be a complete city councilperson. I’ve been fighting for our residents for years – I just didn’t show up four years ago.
Mordarski: I am a lifelong resident and the owner of a small business in Taylor. I am not part of the current political establishment, so I will work for the residents and not special interests. I will try to end no bid contracts and unethical practices that increase residents’ costs and reduce the quality of services, and I will not accept campaign donations from any city vendors or contractors.
Patts: I love the City of Taylor, and believe in it. I have lived here my whole life and don’t like the negative things people associate with Taylor. I believe our history is a huge part of what we are, and I hate to see it discarded. I would like to have the Taylor Historical Museum in Heritage Park open for everyone to visit. Working in the school district, I also would like to see a museum reflecting our schools, especially those that have closed.
Ramik: Residents want someone to represent them and not special interest groups. They want someone they have learned to trust, who has proven to them that they are one of them. I served them for 20 years as a police officer. They have elected me twice to represent them on Council. I know the budget and the inner workings of our city government. I have proven leadership, proven values and my decisions are made from integrity, honesty, and experience. My goals are to maintain and make a better quality of life for all.
Rose: I bought my first home in Taylor three years ago, so I personally know how high property taxes and an unresponsive city bureaucracy hurt our neighborhoods and discourage new families from moving into Taylor. I am not part of the political establishment and will bring fresh and new ideas to improve Taylor. I believe strongly in campaign finance reform, which is why I am self-funding my own campaign and will never accept any campaign donations or endorsements from any person or entity which seeks or does business with the city.
Verdun: In the U.S. Marine Corps I learned to make decisions for the betterment of all. Whether I am around the neighborhood, at the park or coaching youth sports, I always leave the area better than when I arrived. I teach my children these same values. Sharing these ethics with my children and the next generation will improve Taylor for generations to come. Taylor is my home and I’m raising my family to take care of their homes, too.
Williams: I’ve lived in Taylor for 53 years, and I know the city better than most. I love this city, which is why I have stayed here. And want to make Taylor a city that people want to move to and raise a family.
Woolley: I am a honest person, and I’m just here to help my city. I take my position very seriously and I put many hours into it. I work well with others and I’m very friendly and approachable. I am always happy to assist anyone who may need help with a city issue. It has truly been an honor to serve the residents of Taylor, and I look forward to continuing to help my city for the next four years.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)