By ZEINAB NAJM
Local elected officials, businesses owners and community leaders gathered to hear from Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko about updates on things happening in their respective cities during the annual Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce A Tale of Our Cities luncheon Jan. 14.
Paletko spoke about the city adding to its fund balance and that it remains in good financial health due to cost control effort accomplishments, diligent management from city staff and support of businesses and residents.
He also cited the city’s purchase of Warren Valley Golf Club — now Warren Valley Golf Club & Banquets — where the luncheon was held.
“We’re very proud of the fact that in the last year, the city of Dearborn Heights acquired this whole, entire golf course area — two Don Ross golf courses, a fine banquet center,” Paletko said. “We intend to make this the best golf course in the world. You’re going to see some great things coming.”
Paletko then spoke about the continuation of construction projects, city paving projects, the sewer separation and water main projects. He praised the work of department directors, both the fire chief and police chief in addition to Department of Public Works employees, firefighters and clerical employees, CERT members and police officers for their work to address flooding concerns.
Emergency Manager Coordinator Lee Gavin, Chief of Staff Krystina Kramarz-Laslo, Ordinance & Animal Control Director Jack McIntyre and Fire Chief David Brogan were some of the department heads mentioned by Paletko.
In terms of staff changes, John Selmi was hired as DPW director in March, Brian Haddad was brought on to fill the Director of Parks & Recreation position, and McIntyre worked to handle the building department until Larry Domski was hired as director in September.
“As we move into 2020 we will continue to ensure our residents and businesses enjoy the same city services and programs they are accustomed to,” Paletko said. “We will also continue to work diligently toward keeping our expenses as low as possible while advancing our city into the future.”
Police Chief Michael Petri was sworn in as the newest chief after former Police Chief Dan Voltattorni retired. The department and Human Resources Director Elizabeth Sobota-Perry have been working to hire new officers grow and diversify to reflect the ever-changing community, Paletko said.
City Treasurer John Riley II will retire at the end of the April and the city council will have to select an interim treasurer before a new person is elected in November.
Paletko said he believes the fire department is a “perfect department” and is proud of the leadership of Brogan, adding he never receives complaints about the Fire Department, but instead compliments.
In terms of news businesses, Paletko spoke of a new out building on Ford Road in front of Target, retail space replacing where the former Trail Bar was located on Ford Road, and remodeling of a gas station on the northwest corner of Van Born and Telegraph Roads.
“Those of you who are business owners or residents in Dearborn Heights know why our community is so special,” he said. “We are a residential community with a unique blend of small to middle size retail outlets, private practices, service organizations and a modest number of manufacturing facilities. This composition, I believe, makes us a rich community based entirely by fostering a diverse selection of goods and services for our residents which fosters the shared sense of community that is so vital to our environment.”
An ongoing development Paletko spoke about was the Van Born Corridor, which he said would be getting a name change and new identity, plans to increase economic development on the road.
The Van Born Steering Committee continues to meet and is in the process of reviewing ordinances with the intention to make sure that zoning ordinances are compatible in both cities, also to ensure businesses are complimentary on both sides the road to encourage commerce in the area.
“We value all our businesses and appreciate their involvement which plays an important role in the continued fiscal and social well-being of the city,” Paletko said. “I am very proud to continue to be the mayor of the city of Dearborn Heights, a community that I have grown up in and I just think it’s the greatest place to live work and play.”
O’Reilly was next to speak with his speech focusing on all about what Dearborn is doing and how the city is doing it.
The first topic was about the success of the sewer separation project and the importance of safety with the city’s water system to remove any items not beneficial for families.
He then moved on to stress the importance of partnerships including what Dearborn can do with other communities on developments and projects.
“It’s something we’re committed to in Dearborn,” O’Reilly said. We want to make sure that we embrace everybody, that we make sure that we’re working with all of the entities and so on in our city who have something that we can do to make sure they’re more successful.”
Some of the highlights he spoke about where the corridor development authority and how the city can work with Detroit for projects on Michigan Avenue, the city’s relationships with Ford Motor Co. and Beaumont Health, and the local colleges that are looking to grow and attract more people to Dearborn.
Ford is working on projects where it wants to use the pathway from Detroit out to Dearborn and beyond so the city is looking into some possible opportunities, O’Reilly said,
In October, Dearborn introduced new residential standards which was part of wants the city wants to define and identify where certain businesses or neighborhoods can and can’t be with O’Reilly citing the south end as an example where high industrial and families mix.
“We’re also working on identifying standards across the board with regard to how the city developed and we want to make sure it fits and be successful,” he said. “We can then tell people they can rely on if they invest here — this is what they can and have the right to do in city.”
An ongoing topic O’Reilly touched on was looking at how the city can work with people in the know to transform Fairlane Town Center. He said the mall keeps shirking, but added Ford is involved in the discussions.
“We want to make it a viable place, make it something that will draw people in and be able to be a catalyst for more things going on there.”
O’Reilly closed by saying that the One Dearborn mantra is essential and that he wants the city to be a place where everybody succeeds.
“What we’re trying to do is take the assets we have within our community and we want to try to make the most of them,” he said, “meaning they may not just be the city’s, they are some of the people who work here and live here. We want to make sure that we are creating an environment that is going to make it possible for everybody to achieve their goals and again, as I said, have a healthy environment because that’s probably one of the most important things right now.
“Every day we’re learning more and more about issues that are created that we hadn’t been aware of, things that are adverse to our children or adverse to our families and they are being brought to the forefront and we need to be responsible and make sure we’re mitigating anything that could be of a serious issue to the people that we serve.
“That, in my mind, is one of the most important things we can do and we’re getting a lot of support from our community members and so on to get involved.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the luncheon the mayors addressed the 2020 Census, progress on the Van Born Corridor development in Dearborn Heights and partnership with the city of Taylor, challenges for funding or financial challenges in the future, and plans for the vacant Snow Library in Dearborn.
The full video from this year’s luncheon will be posted on the City of Dearborn Heights YouTube page.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])