By ZEINAB NAJM
For the five recently elected public officals, the first 100 days in office is a time to learn and adjust to their new roles in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.
Dearborn Councilwomen Leslie Herrick and Erin Byrnes, Dearborn City Clerk George Darany and Dearborn Heights councilmen Tom Wencel and Bill Bazzi and Councilwoman Denise Maxwell were elected to their positions in November.
Herrick and Byrnes took part in their first Dearborn council meeting on Jan 16, while Darany’s first meeting as clerk was on Jan. 11. Wencel sat on the Heights council for his first meeting on Jan. 9.
Bazzi and Maxwell did not respond to questions by press time. Responses to questions by candiates were limited to 100 words.
Question 1: What has been the biggest challenge during your first 100 days in office in your current elected official position? Why?
Byrnes: The biggest challenge thus far has been finding a way to balance my time and energy between my council responsibilities and my full-time work. I am passionate about all the work that I do, and want to be as proactive as possible in terms of supporting and developing initiatives across the city on behalf of our residents. It’s important to bring my best self to everything I do, and I’m learning how to create impact and bring things to the table that I feel will garner support and serve a purpose for our residents.
Darany: The biggest challenge has been learning the many functions of the clerk’s office. There are numerous roles that the clerk is responsible for that include: running smooth elections, voter registration, setting the agenda for council meetings, administrating oaths of office, keeping birth and death records, maintaining city records and ordinances and running the department’s day-to-day operations. Every day, new concerns and questions come to the forefront and must be addressed in a timely manner. It is important to have a good working relationship with the mayor, city council and department directors in order to address the residents’ needs quickly.
Herrick: Springtime is city budget review time. It is challenging that city council members must sometimes choose to miss important family activities in order to attend meetings where we gather information from city officials and business partners and learn from the questions asked by the council members as we prepare to make important budget decisions.
Wencel: The biggest challenge by far has been the time commitment involved to do a thorough job as councilman. I had no idea how much time it takes out of your personal life. It is not a part time job, it is truly a full time job. I would like to express my love and thanks to my wife and family for their understanding. This is the biggest challenge for me because a year ago my daughter (a single parent) gave birth to her fifth child. Shortly after giving birth she passed away. My wife and I are the children’s foster parents and will be living with us from now on. I see both sides of the spectrum, the challenges of being a senior citizen and the struggles of having a young family.
Question 2: What are some of the things you have accomplished during your 100 days in office?
Byrnes: As a council member, I’ve voted to support several projects that our residents will be able to see and experience including the new Ford Woods pool, streetscaping and lighting at the Wagner Place project, new decorative crosswalks on the south end and outdoor restaurant seating in the east end’s downtown. I am currently exploring ways that I can support sustainability efforts throughout the city, including reducing plastic waste and expanding access to recycling. Dearborn has seen growth around biking and walking recently, and we are poised to expand on work that makes us a healthier community.
Darany: I believe we have raised-the-bar in the department. To create a more professional look in the office, we have added a large American flag, redesigned the letterhead, installed a dress code that includes matching cardigan sweaters, worked with the IT staff to make it easier to pay online and have rededicated our team to provide the best customer service possible. Also, I instituted a new policy that waives fees for death certificates of Dearborn veterans. It is an appropriate way to honor and pay our final respects to our Dearborn military heroes and at the same time extends a courtesy to their families.
Herrick: The city council has approved many important budget items such as purchasing new equipment that ensures we continue to receive top notch public safety services. However, the most meaningful work I’ve done since January is improving quality of life for individuals and groups of residents by coming up with solutions to challenges, connecting them with people who can provide the services that resolve problems, and sometimes giving them a voice when they felt unheard. For example, we are fixing damaged roads; working to slow speeding traffic; and protecting trees that enhance property values, improve air quality and beautify our neighborhoods.
Wencel: Some of my accomplishments are that I feel that I have gained respect from other city officials and departments. Gaining the confidence of our residents that they have elected the right person to represent them is my biggest accomplishment.
Question 3: What has been the most important thing you have learned during your first 100 days in office?
Byrnes: During my first 100 days in office, I’ve learned the importance of perspective-taking. I take every decision that I make very seriously, and weigh the needs of everyone involved to reach a conclusion that I can stand by with confidence. One of my favorite sayings that I think of often in my work on council is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In my first 100 days, I’ve learned how true that really is, and how important it is to move forward in a way that builds progress for everyone.
Darany: I have learned that that there is something to learn every day at this job. One of the things that I learned right away is my staff has a wealth of knowledge. My deputy clerk, Lola Isiminger, has worked in the clerk’s office for 28 years and my election supervisor, Cindy Gassior, has worked for the city for 31 years. Having them on board along with the efficient office assistants has certainly shortened my learning curve. I’ve also learned that the clerk’s office is the “Google” of city government. We take many calls asking all kinds of questions that are not related to the clerk’s office. It keeps us on our toes.
Herrick: I have the benefit of having worked with many city departments in my previous positions at city hall and the Dearborn Community Fund. However, I’ve learned the value of simply listening carefully to the questions and insights of the incumbent council members as we gather information that’s critical to making important decisions that impact Dearborn residents and businesses.
Wencel: The most important thing that I have learned is to listen. By listening to the residents and people on the city payroll, I feel, is the only way to truly know what goes on and what should be done about it. I was elected by thousands of people to represent them, not other officials, departments or outside special interest groups.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)