Aug. 6 primary will narrow field to two
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – Four city council members vying for mayor – Angelo DeGiulio, Tina Gaworecki, Gail McLeod and Kevin Rourke – will have the field narrowed to two after the Aug. 6 primary election.
With the city facing challenges ranging from neighborhood flooding to pension funding, the four candidates responded to survey questions supporting their candidacy for mayor.
Q. What background and experience would you bring to the office of mayor?
DeGuilio: I have spent the past two terms as a city councilman, familiarizing myself with administrative and financial activities of our community. I also served as a member of the Allen Park Downtown Development Authority, and voted against the Lifton Studio $2 million unsecured loan. I run a successful business here, in addition to being a 32-year retired union member of National Steel. I do not accept campaign donations from anyone, and owe no political favors. My loyalties lie with Allen Park, allowing me to keep my promise to represent all of our citizens equally and fairly.
Gaworecki: I have 12 years of city council experience while serving under Mayors Huebler and Matakas. I have a master’s degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University, and attended several courses offered by Michigan Municipal League. I have chaired several council committees, am a council liaison to many commissions, and a council board member for the Wayne County Community Development Block Grant program. While serving the city for the past eight years, I have met, listened to and followed through on resident issues and concerns, qualities which make me a qualified candidate to serve as the next mayor of Allen Park.
McLeod: I graduated from the University of Detroit magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration – personnel. I retired from General Motors as a human resources manager. My managerial experience at General Motors, working with all levels of staff and management, and my strong analytical and problem-solving skills provide me with the foundation for assessing issues and proposing viable solutions. I am skilled in employee training and mentoring, benefits, compensation, performance reviews, contract reviews, negotiations and organizational restructuring. I am a founding member and secretary for the board of directors for the Allen Park Citizens Civic Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing support to our community.
Rourke: I have 40 years of experience in community service, public office and volunteering. I have served 12 years on the city council, listening and responding to resident concerns. For eight years, I was a parks and recreation commissioner, so I understand how important our parks program is to maintaining our community and housing values. I also spent a year on the Downtown Development Authority. I have a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in labor and industrial relations from Wayne State University. I can work and lead a new city council, the administration and the department heads to move Allen Park forward.
Q. Why are you running for mayor?
DeGuilio: As a long-time resident of Allen Park, I understand the struggles of seniors like myself and of young people raising families. We need to balance our budget while keeping the safety of our citizens a priority. I graduated from Allen Park High School, and have a business here, Angelo DeGiulio’s Nemeth Barber Shop. My five children attended Allen Park schools, and three still reside here, as do five of our seven grandchildren.
Gaworecki: I want to continue to move the city in a positive direction. These past eight years we have worked very hard to be transparent and to ensure that the city is financially stable. If elected, I would ensure that transparency continues, will constantly monitor city finances, and will ensure that all required city documents are up-to-date.
McLeod: It has been my honor and privilege to serve as the Allen Park mayor pro tem for the past four years. I am running for mayor because I feel it is important to ensure that the progress the city has made continues. In the mayor’s absence, I preside over and facilitate city council meetings, and represent Allen Park as a voting member of the Downtown Development Authority, the Downriver Community Conference, Downriver Mutual Aid and at Downriver Utility and Wastewater Authority meetings. My participation has given me the opportunity to interact with other members of these organizations and create working relationships, both internal and external to the city.
Rourke: My wife and I have been residents in Allen Park for more than 62 years, growing up and attending school here. Our children also attended school here, and participated in the recreational programs. My mother is a senior citizen, and I am aware of the growing needs of the senior citizens in our city, as well as the financial strain families face today. I keep that in mind when we try to maintain city services, our housing values and our reputation in the Downriver area, as we keep the hometown feeling alive.
Q. What is the most critical issue facing Allen Park, and how will you address it?
DeGuilio: I feel there are two at present. Paying off the remaining failed movie studio debt, voted on by the previous mayor and city council, is a priority. This debt utilizes the real estate of Allen Park, our homes, as collateral and until resolved puts our citizens in jeopardy. A second priority is to stop lawsuits that have plagued our police department for years. We have many excellent officers in this city but a few officers are costing the citizens millions of dollars for their bad behavior.
Gaworecki: As the city moves forward, we will have an entire new council, and as mayor, I look forward to looking into new ways to maintain city finances. Working with all departments to ensure that we stay within our budgets is a key factor. In a few years, we will need to address both the road millage and the public safety millage. Both of these have helped maintain our public safety, and have started to improve our roads and infrastructure.
McLeod: Debt, deteriorating roads and infrastructure are major issues which we must continue to address. Although property values are rising, we are only at about 65 percent of 2007 values, and revenue remains below peak levels. I will work to ensure we retain highly qualified individuals to oversee finance and spending, will work with city departments and community organizations to identify areas of potential growth, and will pursue other funding sources to expedite infrastructure improvements, including possible federal grants. I will also develop liaisons with local community leaders and legislators at all levels of government with the goal of pursuing legislation more equitable to local communities.
Rourke: When speaking to residents, I get a variety of answers, from flooding, ordinance enforcement of rental properties, to roads and public safety. We need to continue to provide the services our citizens deserve. I have listened and shared this with the city administrator. I believe we are addressing these issues, but we could better communicate our successes. Also, in December 2022, we have a police and fire millage that is up. That may seem far away, but it provides $5 million to the city budget.
Q. What should be done to address the concerns of residents who experienced house flooding this spring, and what should be done to help prevent future flooding?
DeGuilio: In addition to any government assistance and insurance money that have become available to the residents who have been devastated by the spring house flooding, we must be proactive prior to these events occurring. First, we must ensure that our pumps are all in good working condition. With excessive flooding, all pumps must be kept running. We have well-trained, dedicated employees, and it is very important that the employees operating the pumps be qualified and available to staff the pumps, valves, and gauges when this type of emergency occurs.
Gaworecki: In the past, as a homeowner, I experienced flooding. As our climate changes, the entire country experienced flooding this spring. We need residents to report their flooding issues to the city. This will help identify the hardest hit areas, and will help in the event of future flooding. I have found, in the past, that I was the only one on my block to report a flooding issue, which led the city to think only one home flooded on the block. We also need Wayne County to assist with the cleanup of some of the creeks within our city to provide better drainage.
McLeod: There is no simple answer or solution to the water backups experienced by many homeowners, including myself, this spring. Record-breaking water levels had a severe impact on our systems, which were fully functioning. I will meet with individuals experienced in the field and discuss options and associated costs. I will follow up on studies conducted by Wayne County and the Army Corps of Engineers to determine actions that can be taken to remedy issues. I will also engage with other communities impacted by flooding. More studies are not needed – action is needed.
Rourke: Flooding has been a problem in the Downriver area, including Allen Park, for many years. We built a basin, separated sewers, added a super tunnel, a holding tank and more. We need to continue to work with our engineers, surrounding communities and our residents to find a resolution to Mother Nature. We need to increase our communication to the residents as well, and be proactive when the need arises.
Q. How should the Michigan Employees’ Retirement System and other post-employment benefits be adequately funded?
DeGuilio: We must stop giving pensions to employees in their 40s. Retired employees who have approximately 10 years of service with the city are receiving pensions. We eliminated $1 co-pays for prescriptions, and instituted a program requiring employees to contribute toward their health care costs. Unfortunately, these changes, in part, have resulted in a lawsuit against the city by some retirees. If we succeed in making changes, we will eventually be able to meet our debt obligations to our retirees. I, personally, am a senior citizen whose benefits were eliminated when Great Lakes Steel went bankrupt. I relate to other citizens who must use their incomes as frugally as possible.
Gaworecki: (Response not given.)
McLeod: The city is constantly exploring ways to reduce costs in order to provide benefits to our employees and services to our residents with the limited tax revenue available. Our approach has been to follow the trend from fully-insured to self-insured, and from defined benefit to defined contribution plans. Defined benefit plans were closed in 2008 for all new employees except fire and police. We continue to review all options related to health care and, since 2013, all new employees are no longer under the “other post-employment benefits” category, but are enrolled in healthcare savings plans. Funding of all pension plans is monitored by the state of Michigan.
Rourke: The city has a plan to comply the Michigan Employees’ Retirement System and with Public Act 202 of 2017, which protects local government retirement plans and benefits. The state has accepted the city’s plan, which the city council approved. We must continue to work and negotiate with our employees to keep expenses in line.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)