Third Ward candidates respond to questions
Monday, July 29, 2013 7:00 PM
MENOMINEE - On Aug. 6, voters in Menominee's Third Ward will vote in a primary for a city council representative. Al Walker has chosen not to seek re-election, however three candidates' names will appear on the ballot. Candidates Donald Hudon, Ray Williams have previous council experience; the third candidate is newcomer Josh Jones. The top two votegetters will move on to the Nov. 5 general election.
From left, Don Hudon, Ray Williams and Josh Jones are candidates to represent the Third Ward on the Menominee City Council.
The EagleHerald asked each candidate to respond to a series of questions. Here are their responses:
Name: Don Hudon
Marital status: Married
Education: College/4 years
Political experience: 8 years/City Council
Menominee resident: Continually the past 26 years. Prior, on and off, for 44 years
Military/Civic organizations: American Legion - 37 years, past commander Menominee Post 146. Have held district, zone, state and national positions
Name: Ray WIlliams
Marital status: Divorced
Education: Associate of science degree, UW Marinette
Political experience: Past councilman Ward 1
Menominee resident: Most of my adult life
Military/Civic organizations: Past member of Board of Directors of The Marinette Area Chamber of Commerce, the River Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Peshtigo Area Chamber of Commerce and the Crivitz Business Association. Past president of the Menominee Downtown Business Association and past board member of the Menominee Downtown Development Authority, past president of Menominee Opera House Committee Inc., past member of the American Legion (served in the U.S. Navy).
Name: Josh Jones
Marital status: Single
Education: Graduated summa cum laude from St. Norbert College in 2010 with a history and political science double major. Also studied interreligious dialogue at Catholic Theological Union, and currently enrolled in a master of arts in teaching program at Cardinal Stritch University.
Political experience: Newcomer
Menominee resident: 26 years.
Military/Civic organizations: Member of the Knights of Columbus, Resurrection parish in Menominee, and help coach track and cross country at Menominee Catholic Central School.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current staffing levels of the police and fire departments and how serious of an issue is overtime?
Hudon: I believe the police department is understaffed as far there is not enough patrol officers. Overtime in both departments has been of concern and has been discussed but with no action on part of committee or council. In the fire department, overtime is a major concern as well. I believe we need to take a serious look at our current Mutual Aid Agreement. A number of calls the fire department responds to are canceled en route and also contributes to overtime.
Williams: Ideally, there should be at least two officers per 1,000 people in community the size of Menominee and I would support bringing us to that level. As to the overtime issue, we should have enough officers to meet that ideal number of officers per population served to help eliminate the need for overtime and the extra stress that could result. This would eliminate the possibility of errors and overall make for a happier force and citizenry.
Jones: I would turn to the professional leadership of both departments to get their thoughts on their current staffing levels and on how to best utilize the staff that they have. The police and fire departments are the two largest departments in the city's budget accounting for just over $1.5 million and $1.2 million dollars, respectively. As a part of the budget unanimously adopted by the city council in May, they approved adding one additional officer to the police department and gave the department the go-ahead to make some reorganizational changes. I hope that these changes in the police department will help alleviate some of the department's overtime costs. Because people will always get sick, take vacation, and our police and fire departments need to operate 24/7, there will always be some overtime costs. As the number of calls the departments receives goes up, the number of arrests made and incidents of violent and property crimes continue to rise, and drugs remain a large problem in Menominee, we need to be sure that both departments have the resources they need to keep our community safe. This doesn't mean giving the departments a blank check, but rather working with them to address the most critical and pressing needs they have and making sure the taxpayer money we invest in the departments is done so wisely.
Q: What nonelected city positions would you add or subtract and why?
Williams: One of my goals when I served last on the council was to reinstate the position of city engineer. That has since occurred. I believe strongly that the assessor, code enforcement officer and the engineer should work closely together and, in fact, form a cohesive department. By sharing all information among them it would make it much easier for planning, code enforcement and response to citizen inquiries and more.
Jones: At this point, I do not have an opinion on what nonelected city positions I would add or subtract. This is why we have a city manager and department heads. According to the city charter, the city manager is the chief administrative officer of the city with the authority to hire, appoint, and when necessary, suspend or remove all city employees and appointive administrative officers provided for by and under the charter. If issues, questions, or problems are brought to my attention about a specific city employee or the way a department or office is running, I would share that information with the city manager, the appropriate oversight committee, and/or the committee of the whole to investigate further, hear a report back from, and make sure appropriate actions have been taken to resolve the issue.
Hudon: There are areas in the city staffing levels that need to be addressed. Our employee costs could be lower if the city looked more at shared services with the county rather than rejecting those opportunities. We need to add on in the DPW department so the city can handle the workload more efficiently. The city has some departments overlapping other entities.
Q: What role should the city play in the restoration of the lighthouse?
Jones: The Menominee lighthouse is the most recognizable landmark and symbol of our community. All you have to do is look at the front page of this newspaper or look at the city of Menominee's website to confirm it. That being said, as the owner of the lighthouse, it is the city's responsibility to take the lead in the restoration of it. When the city took possession of the lighthouse in 2008, they also assumed the responsibility of maintaining it, making it available for educational, park, recreation, cultural or historic preservations, and to the general public as well as placing a sign out acknowledging that it was donated by the U.S government. In the past five years, none of this has happened. Before anything can be accomplished, a study must be conducted to determine the scope of work that needs to be done, what the costs will be, and a vision for what we want the lighthouse to be needs to be created. While the city should take the lead on this effort, it is important to involve local civic organizations, the public, and others who would be willing to make donations and perhaps do some of the work. There are grants available to help with the costs of conducting a study like this, and I would encourage the city to apply for grants to help offset the initial costs of conducting a study and creating a preservation and use plan for the lighthouse. We advertise Menominee as being "Where the best of Michigan begins," and if what tourists and visitors to our community see is the symbol of our city, the lighthouse, in a state of decay, what sort of message are we really sending?
Hudon: The city of Menominee should be spearheading the restoration of the lighthouse. The city's icon is deteriorating before our eyes and that we should be investigating ways to minimize further deterioration at the same time we are seeking funding. The current condition of the lighthouse does not portray us in a favorable light.
Williams: I am in favor of restoring our North Pier Light, it has been a beacon to travelers for over a century and has become an icon for our city. The city should participate in any way possible to make sure restoration occurs in a timely, legal (meeting and acquiring all permits required) and fiscally responsible manner. This may take time and effort. But it will be worth it to preserve our symbol of the City of Menominee.
Q: If the city has fallen short in its obligation to the taxpayers in the past two or three years, how? How has it excelled?
Hudon: Committees and council were the prime items discussed three years ago on how things were to be handled. As of this point, the committees and council have been left out of the process. Last-minute items are put in front of committees and council to review and vote on. This is a major injustice to the residents of the city. We need to get back to the principles of what we want. Quit buffaloing the residents. Spring cleanup has been great to the residents. City helping with different events.
Williams: Things have been moving along quite nicely. If I had to pick on anything it would be how slowly the road and street repairs have been taking. I realize that you have to have everything in place to begin, and that sometimes things take time. But we need to act with some alacrity as our season is so relatively short. How has it excelled? I believe that since we hired our current city manager, the move to get critical things done has been accelerated. This despite some of what I feel is unnecessary interference or micro-managing by a couple of city council members. The manager had been hired to manage the city as laid out clearly in our city charter. The council has very specific tasks and oversight also laid out clearly in our charter. We have had four city managers and two interim managers in the last six years or so. The council and the manager need to work closely together to make Menominee the best place to live.
Jones: It is the city's obligation to the taxpayers to ensure that the money it collects from the citizens is used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Having sat in on some of the budget committee's meetings this past spring, I was encouraged to see the committee members going through the budget line by line, department by department, asking questions and making cuts. I think the city has failed to provide proper maintenance over our basic infrastructure such as our streets and sidewalks in the past. As a wheelchair user and hand cyclist, I see the effects of that first hand when I have to decide what streets I want to go down or have to determine if I can even access certain sidewalks or if I can, will I be better off riding in the street based on their conditions? At the last city council meeting, there was a lot of discussion and a petition circulated by residents living along 14th Avenue who voiced their concerns about the condition of their street and sidewalks and wanted to make sure the city holds true to the promise they made with them to complete the entire project. The street millage that was passed by voters this spring will help with some of these problem areas, and as a council member I will work to make sure that the lists of projects marketed as a part of the proposal get taken care of. I also think the city needs to do a better job in maintaining an environment that attracts new businesses to the area that would increase the tax base of the community and provide jobs. The expansions at Great Lakes Foods and Enstrom Helicopter are great for our community and we need to continue to work with and support our local businesses as well.
Q: Are you satisfied with the current method of payment and amount charged per month for trash pick up? If not, what would you suggest?
Williams: Some may remember that I voted for the flat-fee method and the privatization of the trash pickup. The reasons have been discussed during that time and I still feel that way. We have now moved to a hybrid millage/fee method and I don't really have a problem with that. As we move to try and streamline our services to our citizens and to try new well-thought-out methods, adjustments will have to be made. This assures that our population gets the best return for their invested dollars from taxes and fees.
Jones: The issue I have with the current method of payment and amount charged per month for trash pickup is that it does not cover the actual cost of trash collection and is not sustainable going forward because it relies on a reserve fund to supplement it and when that fund is gone, the rate, millage, or rate and millage will have to be raised. This is the same issue I have with returning to a straight 3 mills to pay for trash pickup because that also does not cover the full cost of trash pickup either, would create a shortfall of around $45,000 annually, and we would be right back at square one again having to, at that point, start collecting a fee again. Regardless of what the current method of payment and amount charged per month for trash pickup are, we are getting close to the end of our current contract with Waste Management and do not yet know what the cost for trash pickup will be going forward. I think this is the time when we should be seeking the public's input on the services they have been provided since trash collection was privatized, and put everything back on the table to make sure that we are providing our citizens with the most cost effective method of trash collection. We should start renegotiations with our current private contractor, and seek bids from other contractors to encourage competition and drive down costs. I would like to see the city move to a system that is based more on a user fee than millage and think now would also be a good time to explore the option of requiring recycling which would reduce the amount of trash that needs to be collected. I think a system where people pay based on the amount of trash they throw out instead of based on the taxable value of their home is fair and makes the most sense.
Hudon: The city's trash collection remains a major concern to the majority of taxpayers. The council took action to lighten the burden to residents but has not gone far enough. I believe a return to 3 mills property tax assessment would benefit a number of residents. The 3 mills would also (benefit) seniors in the city by allowing for additional Homestead Tax Credit. Inform the residents about the extra money and where it is going.
Q: What makes you the best qualified candidate to serve the residents of Ward 3?
Jones: I am a political newcomer, and as someone in my mid-20s, I have a long-term vested interest in the future of our city. I believe in Menominee and want to ensure that its future remains bright. I got my first experience with city government as a junior and senior in high school when I had the opportunity to serve as the co-chair of the city's Mayor's Youth Council. As a member of that council, I got to work with the mayor and city manager as well as attend city council meetings and give updates on our activities and inform the city on issues related to the youth of our community. Hanging in my room at home is a resolution from the city thanking me for my leadership, service and contributions to the city as a member of that council. While I haven't been involved in city government since that time, I have had the opportunity to take those same leadership skills and sense of service to multiple boards, committees, task forces and councils that I have served on and continue to serve on. My education and these experiences have allowed me to develop the leadership, communication and critical-thinking skills I feel a city council member should possess. If elected, I will assume my seat on the council with an open mind. I believe government should be transparent and accountable. I will listen, ask questions, do the necessary research and seek input from you, my constituents, and work with my fellow council members in a cooperative effort to offer common sense solutions to the issues at hand and to ensure that our city government runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. If anything, I hope to inspire people to get involved in city government, and pay more attention to what is going on in our community. This is why I feel I am qualified to serve the residents of the 3rd ward on the city council and if you feel that I have the necessary qualifications, I would appreciate your support on Aug. 6. For more information and to get in touch with me, please visit my website www.jones4council.com.
Hudon: Experience: Former member of the council for eight years in the 3rd Ward. Concern: For the well-being of the majority of taxpayers in the city. A strong advocate of business development in the community and the area. Desire to work and vote for the betterment of the city, its services, its employees and its budget. Familiarity with all aspects of city operations including Public Works, Park/Rec., Henes Park Board, Cemetery Board, Planning Commission. Will listen and answer all questions. A voice for the 3rd Ward and the city of Menominee.
Williams: Ward 3 is made up of a diverse mix of folks from all walks of life. My working career included factory work, retail sales, photography, business management and business ownership. I, therefore, can understand the many differing concerns of my ward's citizens. My experience as a past councilman means that there is no learning curve and I can "hit the ball running" to serve Ward 3. I will endeavor through diligent attendance, to represent Ward 3 and the community if elected to do so. I will concern myself with the advancement of the public interest in all matters that come before me. I will make myself available to all my constituents to answer all questions and address their concerns. I will represent Ward 3 with cheerfulness and optimism to help our ward and community to a bright and lasting future.