By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – Charles Blevins, 28, first runnerup for city council last November, was sworn in as a city councilman Jan. 27 by City Clerk Michael Mizzi following Councilman Robert Stites’ death.
Per the city charter, the council voted on Blevins’ appointment, which passed unanimously.
Stites, 71, a retired police officer and active city volunteer, died Jan. 22, three weeks after the diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer. Stites, who thought he had bronchitis or pneumonia, was diagnosed on New Year’s Day.
He had recently been elected to city council.
Mizzi said the last time he had sworn in a council member to a sitting council was for past City Councilwoman Tina Gaworecki, who was in attendance.
“That is how our process works – continuity of government,” Mizzi said.
Blevins said it had been a challenging week, and his heart, thoughts and prayers go to Stites’ family.
“I actually knew his kids back in high school, and one thing I know about Bob was he was very passionate about this city,” Blevins said. “He will be truly missed.”
He said he will do his best as councilman, and knows that Stites will always be with the council in spirit.
“It’s been a bittersweet moment,” Blevins said. “I have been coming to these meeting since Richard Huebler was our mayor (2004 to 2005), and I always tell people to come up here and speak, because your voice does matter.”
Blevins, a lifelong resident of Allen Park, said he has lived in the city for 28 years, having celebrated his birthday last month. He said he had been attending council meeting half of his life, and has seen three different city halls.
“The amount of love I have had this past week, congratulating me, and it is such an honor to be up here to represent this great city,” he said. “I can’t wait to work with each and every one of you, the department heads, the committees and commissions.”
Blevins said he ran for city council four years ago, as well.
“The big thing was to never give up on what you believe in,” he said.
Blevins said he was wearing his late father’s tie in his memory. His mother, whom he called his “strongest supporter,” was in attendance at the council meeting and swearing in.
“I hope I can make the city of Allen Park proud,” Blevins said.
Mayor Gail McLeod said as she listened to the council members’ comments earlier, she was filled with a great sense of pride.
“I am proud to be sitting here with this group of people,” McLeod said. “I think we will do very good things for you. I think we all know how to work together. We have the right motives for being here. We have empathy, we have sympathy, we have feelings.
“It is also nice to see that even in moments where there is sadness, there can be laughter. Life does go on. We have to deal with a lot of things.”
Stites, who grew up on Keppen in northern Allen Park, enlisted in the Army upon graduation from Melvindale High School, and served in Korea during the Vietnam War era.
Shortly after his military service ended, Stites joined the Allen Park Police Department. While serving as a police officer, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
He was one of the founders of Allen Park’s Safety Town program, which teaches safety basics to young children. He was also a frequent volunteer at the police department’s booth at the city’s annual street fair.
Stites was a devoted University of Michigan fan, and often wore the maize and blue. He enjoyed the fall tradition of tailgating prior to football games.
McLeod said she first met Stites through his volunteer work for the city, which included the Street Fair and the Made in Michigan event.
“He gave many hours to these events, both in planning, setting up and serving,” McLeod said. “He was a key member of the Festivities Committee, deeply involved with our annual Street Fair, and played a huge role in the success of the DDA’s annual Made in Michigan event. He seemed to know so much about so many things and got things done.”
McLeod said she wished she had gotten to work with Stites and to have gotten to know him better.
“He left us much too soon,” she said. “Even in the brief period of time we worked together, I felt he was someone I could depend on and who would have made a major contribution to the advancement of our city. I am saddened by his passing and for his family’s loss.”
Stites leaves his wife, Melissa; his son, Bobby Stites, and daughter, Sarah Foss (John); his grandchild, Buchanan; siblings Charlene Vorva, Barbara Marsh, Janet Dragone (Pat), Kathy Berdich (late Dan) and Daniel Stites (Terri); and his brother-in-law Jerry Welsch. He was predeceased by his sister Donna Welsch.