There have been rumblings of discontent heard around town regarding a proposed rule change at City Council to shorten the time afforded to speakers from seven minutes down to four. Council should proceed and reduce the time limit anyway.
As frequent viewers and attendees of city council meetings are aware, residents are allowed to speak before council at a podium once for each order of business on the agenda, plus one additional time during the “Communications from Citizens” segment of the meeting. Over the past several years we’ve seen people inveigh against council for as long as twenty-five or thirty minutes, while others kept it short and, if not sweet, at least brief and to the point.
During the Notte administration, council meetings began to extend until midnight. Considering that the standard start time for a council meeting is 7:30PM, that works out to four and a half hours, much of which was spent giving everyone the opportunity to have their say on the issues of the day. To address the lengthy meetings, the speaking time was reduced to six minutes, with an additional minute of time to wrap up, for a total of seven minutes. Meetings were shortened to a still-long but greatly improved 3 hours or so.
As much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong about this rule change back when it was first enacted. I felt at the time like it infringed upon the freedom of speech, and I opposed the change. What I didn’t consider was the signal-to-noise ratio, which was unfavorable when residents were allowed to speak as long as they wished.
The signal-to-noise ratio is still out of balance, even with a seven minute limit. There are quite a few regular participants who wouldn’t know the meaning of brevity if it hit them upside the head in pamphlet form. People have used “their” seven minutes to campaign, to insult members of council, to insult other residents, make unfounded accusations, slander people, give “newsreel” monologues, and to frankly waste everyone else’s time.
The people most upset about shortening the amount of time seem to think the opportunity to speak equates to being “their” time. It isn’t. It’s a public meeting. It’s everyone’s time. As a meeting participant, you should have to use our time wisely. The only way to achieve this is to set a limit that hopefully causes as many people as possible to get to the point sooner, rather than later.
We’re not going to reach the point where Council has complete control over the subject material discussed at meetings. Even with a four minute limit, I hazard that some participants are going to deliver 30 seconds of useful material and three and a half minutes of stuff nobody needs to hear. And I worry a bit about a slippery slope here: will we eventually get to the point where we have two minute limits? Thirty-five second limits?
I am a proponent of the written word, as evidenced by this blog. If you have something you wish to discuss in a public forum that has details requiring explanation, you should put it in writing. That gives me, the reader, the opportunity to read your text, then go back and answer my own questions about exactly what you said. It enhances clarity. Plus, I can read your words a heck of a lot faster than you can speak them. It is a more efficient use of everyone’s time.
Many of the worst offenders who have wasted seven minutes of everyone’s time have done so while reading from a prepared text. I’d be willing to bet that I could accurately figure out what it was they were trying to say in approximately a minute or less if I just had that text before me. Blogs like this one are free. The level of computer skill required to put one up is not prohibitively high for most people: if you can use Facebook, you can blog. You’ve already written down what you have to say. So why are you reading something to me when I could read it for myself?
My opinion is that seven minutes is too much, and four minutes sounds better. I expect that often it will still result in wasted time, but reducing the amount of time wasted is a good thing. And if it shortens the meetings back down to a more reasonable amount of time, I might be persuaded to take in more of them in person, rather than skimming through the highlights on TV.
Shorten the meetings, Mr. Mayor and Council. The new limits will be fine.
Last night there were some hard feelings at the council bench over a majority decision to put the city’s trash hauling contract out for bid while Waste Management’s current contract is still in effect. In his statements explaining why he would vote against the measure, Councilman Joe Romano stated “something stinks here, and it’s not the garbage!” He then went on to imply that campaign contributions from a competitive trash hauler might explain what he viewed as the majority’s haste in sending the contract out to bid.
Positions of Proponents and Opponents
The council members holding the minority position, Maria Schmidt, Barbara Ziarko, and Joseph Romano, argued that sending the contract out for bids was premature, that they didn’t have adequate time to review the bid specification due to the election, and that the city could simply exercise its option to extend the current contract for a one- or two-year term. They didn’t see a need to send the contract out for bids at this time, and at least one of them expressed concern over the potential for a lawsuit by Waste Management, which currently has an exclusive license for curbside recyclables collection.
On the other hand, Council Members Skrzyniarz, Koski, Shannon and Mayor Taylor argued that sending the contract out for bids would likely result in a substantial savings to the city, and it could introduce the possibility of new services, i.e. mechanized trash collection via 64- or 96-gallon wheeled containers, plus curbside single-stream recycling at no extra charge to the residents. Citing the potential for a half million dollar savings to the city on the single largest outsourced service the city contracts, the majority view was that the worst that would happen would be the extension of the current contract with Waste Management under the terms already in place.
Mr. Romano’s Charge
Mr. Romano was the last opposing council member to speak on the issue, and in his talk he described the matter in a way that suggested back room politicking and tit-for-tat accommodations for campaign contributors. He cited Rizzo Services’ contributions to all of the incumbents as somehow being an improper attempt to influence council to send the contract out to bid while their competitor and long time contract holder Waste Management still has time left to go on its current contract, two possible extensions, and an exclusive license for curbside recycling in the city until 2018.
Mayor Taylor’s Rebuttal
Mayor Taylor stated that he “resented” Mr. Romano’s charge, and that nobody from Rizzo had ever suggested their contribution was made in anything more than the spirit of seeking good government for the city. He then went on at some length to explain his reasons for bringing the matter to the fore, including the facts that the bid specification had been in the works for months, and that a substantially unchanged version was made available to the council over one month before last night’s vote.
Was this really necessary?
Mr. Romano’s statements regarding campaign contributions were out of line. His speculation that the Mayor and council members who sided with the majority vote were somehow acting improperly and hastily were just that: idle speculation. In the process of making his accusation, not only did he accuse fellow members of council of wrongdoing, he also accused a local Sterling Heights business of bribery. Mr. Romano, in your statement you said you wanted to avoid lawsuits. Can you explain how making a slanderous accusation such as this aligns with trying to keep the city out of court?
When someone make accusations that attack peoples’ integrity, there should be proof. Conjecture and speculation amounts to little more than gossip. Mr. Romano may well be upset to find himself on the losing side of the vote on this issue, but that doesn’t justify the statements he made that impugn the integrity of the majority side and Rizzo Services.
Yet, even with all of the discord, something very positive happened during the discussion. After Mayor Taylor gave his opinion on the issue at some length, Councilwoman Ziarko made a rebuttal to some of his statements. Suddenly, we had an actual debate! It was short-lived, but it represented a baby step towards something I’ve wanted to see at the council bench for some time: actual deliberations, a back-and-forth discussion of the issues, and real consideration of both sides. I give Mayor Taylor credit for allowing and perhaps even encouraging this sort of exchange, and to Councilwoman Ziarko for speaking her mind even after her turn was over. We need more of this. With the Open Meetings Act preventing deliberations outside of a public meeting, it has to happen somewhere.
In the end, City Council will get past this. Mr. Romano would do well to remember that making accusations of this nature against people you’ve just been re-elected to serve with for two more years is counter-productive. As for the opposition by Councilwomen Schmidt and Ziarko, I think their points were well made, but sometimes that isn’t enough to win the day.
Finally, nobody really can claim that this council is a “rubber stamp” on much of anything after witnessing this exchange. These people really are all trying to do what’s best for the city, and they don’t always agree. It’s somewhat rare that you’ll see it to this extent, but it does happen.
Last night, the election returns confirmed what many had suspected would happen all along: Michael C. Taylor and the incumbent city council handily beat Paul Smith and his slate of challenger candidates. The victory is meaningful, and several lessons can be drawn from what took place.
Among other things, Smith’s success in organizing the petition drive against the Anti-LGBT discrimination ordinance compelled him and several of the challenger candidates to run for office. Convinced that receiving over 8,000 petition signatures represented true victory, they thought they had found support which would sweep them into office. Fortunately for the city, there is a much different threshold one must cross to get somebody to vote for you than there is to get somebody to sign a petition. If you are not honest in the way you go about convincing people to sign a petition, it is easy to mistake a successful petition drive for a barometer on the will of the people. The resulting, deeply flawed indication from the petitions sparked a political campaign that proved to only have a fraction of the support the petition garnered. Petitions are petitions, and elections are elections. Mistake one for the other and you may wind up as disappointed as Mr. Smith and the challengers.
Smart Meter activism informed the campaigns of two of the candidates. At some point, those candidates should have realized that the difficulty they were having gaining traction on the Smart Meter issue in council chambers meant they would face an even more uphill battle trying to win an election on the issue. Smart Meter activism is crackpot activism, and it led to a crackpot campaign. It is little surprise that it wasn’t possible to win election based on pseudo-scientific hearsay and conjecture, even to those candidates, so rather than reconsider their bids, they decided to double-down on bad ideas and attack immigration in a city with a large immigrant population. The immigrant voters stayed away in droves. Bigotry does not win in 2015’s Sterling Heights, nor do crackpots. The city is more sophisticated than that.
The debate over a proposed mosque in the city, even though it gathered a great deal of attention in the media and exposed the xenophobic biases of several of the candidates, ultimately failed to impact the vote the way the challengers hoped. Perhaps more accurately, the Smith camp failed in its attempt to hang the mosque proposal around the necks of the incumbents. The voters could not be convinced that a sitting council which remained neutral on the issue was doing anything other than following the law and remaining within the bounds of its purview on land use decisions. The charges that council was either pro-mosque or anti-mosque were without merit, and the voters ultimately ignored them.
Incumbency is powerful. Nate Shannon, a perfectly reasonable man who has proven to be a perfectly satisfactory city council member, could not get elected in his original bid for office. Yet, after being appointed and serving in the position for nine months, he won the election handily. The difference? The depth and strength of his support, combined with the fact that a city’s voters can be convinced more easily to maintain the status quo than they can be convinced to take the risk of electing someone new. Mr. Shannon, although technically the weakest candidate on the incumbent slate due to the nature of how he got into office, has demonstrated that the campaign dollars flow to the candidates who people can trust to keep the city on an even keel. This made all of the difference in the world.
The difference in the percentage of the votes between the new Mayor Pro-Tem, Joseph V. Romano, and the candidate who was re-elected with the least number of votes, Maria Schmidt, is 1.26%. If you look at the vote counts, the council candidates were all within a few hundred votes of each other in an election that counted over 88,000 votes. My conclusion? The difference between the Mayor Pro-Tem’s support and any of the other re-elected council members is statistically insignificant. There is no council member significantly stronger or weaker than the rest of the pack. On the other hand, the difference between the candidates who were re-elected and the challenger candidates was vast: at minimum, over 5,000 votes. My contention from the very beginning of this campaign was that the challengers would be extremely lucky to elect one candidate, and that Mr. Smith had no chance of being elected at all, and although I’m a little surprised about the order the challengers finished in, my basic premise proved to be right.
In the end, a very poor-quality group of challenger candidates took on a well-established group of incumbents, and predictably, the challengers lost. Much will be made by the losing side in the coming weeks about how voter apathy is to blame for the election results, but I maintain that the voters who came to the polls were the ones who made the right choice; in other words, only the best qualified voters were the ones who showed up. This morning, Mr. Smith posted to one of his Facebook pages that his campaign signs will be collected beginning today in preparation for another election bid in 2017. He should save his time and money and just throw them away instead: a repeat of this election in 2017 will have no different results. His political career in Sterling Heights is finished.
Finally, a personal note to my readers: this blog has been running for about five years now, and it had its best week ever over the last seven days in terms of page views. Thank you for your readership, it is very gratifying to see people coming to the site to see what I have to say. I appreciate your support, feedback, and referrals of the site to your friends and neighbors. I feel very fortunate to have an audience, and I will continue to work to make your time spent reading here worthwhile.
Today I am going to tell you that everything you think you know about the importance of participating in an election is wrong: I am going to attempt to convince you to not vote next Tuesday if you don’t know exactly who you are voting for and why.
You, dear reader, have doubtless had impressed upon you that the most important thing in any election is participation and a high voter turn-out. The idea that somebody would stay home on election day has been widely disparaged. You almost certainly have been told that voting is a civic duty, and that every able-bodied, registered voter has the obligation to turn up at the voting site on election day and cast their ballot.
Unfortunately, this is incorrect. The most important thing in any election is who wins and who loses. The entire direction of the city’s government could change for the worse if the wrong people are elected.
As voters, we are charged with being the stewards of our government. The responsibility of choosing the people who will lead us is an important one, and it should not be taken lightly. At stake is a budget of over $160 million dollars, the value of our homes should we decide to sell them, the type of Fire and Police protection our city will have, and the rapidity with which our city’s infrastructure will be maintained and/or replaced. These are extremely important issues that directly affect all of us.
Therefore, there is no excuse for showing up at the polls and not knowing exactly who you will vote for. Moreover, if asked, you should be able to articulate why the people you are voting for represent your interests better than the other candidates. You should know exactly where the candidates all stand on our city’s budget, Fire, Police, and other issues, and use this knowledge to make an informed choice about who will represent you.
My friend Michael Lombardini has made an industry out of showing the interested potential voter who the local candidates are, challenger and incumbent via his Sterling Heights Local Politics Facebook group. Do visit if you have any questions about this election. They will be swiftly and expertly answered there.
The uninformed voter cannot perform his or her civic duty with the care and caution the founders of this great nation envisioned. The direction our government takes pivots on how well informed the electorate is. When the voters are poorly informed, we get bad government. We see the results of this at the national level every time we turn on the news.
If you find yourself in the voting booth and cannot recognize one or more of the names of the people who are running, do your city a favor: don’t vote. If you are not certain exactly who you are voting for before you receive your ballot, again, please don’t vote.
During the Communications from Citizens segment of the 20-OCT-2015 City Council meeting, Candidate Verna Babula got up to speak about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and her perceived need for local control over which of those immigrants are allowed to come to Sterling Heights. Here is the two and a half minute video of what she had to say:
In her speech, Verna Babula touches upon an issue that has great currency in Sterling Heights, which is a sizable town in the process of absorbing a large number of immigrants from a different culture. Mrs. Babula is seeking to arouse the passions of those who feel annoyed by the influx of immigrants. This is nothing other than an attempt to appeal to one of the darkest parts of human nature: fear of the unknown.
Without a doubt, in any given area where large groups of immigrants coalesce, there are problems brought about by the difference in culture, the need for services, and the language barrier. As has been proven time and again, these problems are temporary. As time goes on, the immigrants assimilate into the surrounding community. But it does not happen quickly or easily. Sterling Heights has been experiencing a case of this as large numbers of refugees from Iraq, the Chaldeans, have settled here in significant numbers over the past decade.
Often, as was the case with the Italian immigration of the early 20th Century, it takes a couple of generations before the group of former immigrants becomes largely indistinguishable from the surrounding population aside from minor cultural differences. In the meantime, there is usually tension between the group of immigrants and the people who were present before they came, and a certain provincial attitude on the part of the long-timers frequently arises. People have for time immemorial worried about immigration and what effect it would have on our society. They worry about the different religions, the different customs, and the difficulty in communicating. They find these things frustrating. I’m not immune to these frustrations. Few people are. Yet, somehow, it has always worked out. The American Melting Pot is real, and it is open to all comers. History proves that our society always becomes stronger for it. An educated people works through these frustrations and remembers this.
Verna Babula’s proposed solution to this problem? A board under local control which would vet the immigrants and decide who does (and who does not) get to come to Sterling Heights.
Put quite bluntly, this “solution” is as un-American as they get.
As I have stated in another post, one of the things about living in an urban setting is that you don’t get to choose who your neighbors are going to be. This is for a good reason: it invites discrimination. It also elevates the people doing the choosing to a status above the rest of the mere residents and proposed residents as the deciders of who gets to come here. This dismisses and rejects the whole of American history and the reasons for our nation’s rise to prominence.
America is a nation of immigrants which prides itself on the notion of “Liberty and Justice For All.” One of the key strengths we have historically possessed as a nation is the freedom of immigrants to settle where they please and to make the best of their new surroundings. This in no small part has lead to the famous “American ingenuity” which enabled our society to prevail over the great evils represented by the Axis powers of World War II. The freedoms accorded to even the newest among us have made our society the economic powerhouse that remains the envy of the world. Although diversity simply for diversity’s sake is not an unalloyed good, it has been demonstrated that it is far more beneficial to our society than it is detrimental. American Exceptionalism derives directly from the even-handed treatment our immigrants, and really all of our compatriots, have always enjoyed.
My question: If people like Verna Babula were in control at the time our ancestors came here, would they have made the cut?
Personally, my very existence owes to the fact that a 9-year old Dutch girl crossed the Atlantic in 1911, passed through Ellis Island, and then settled in the Detroit area, later becoming my maternal grandmother.
I wonder if Mrs. Babula would have approved of my grandmother? And I wonder how many other people like me in the future might not get the same opportunities I did because Mrs. Babula, and her Tea Party brethren, decided they weren’t OK?
Mrs. Babula’s call for local control over immigration is dangerous. I highly doubt it would be limited to just these Syrian refugees. Such a group, if given the ability to decide who will or will not be allowed to move into Sterling Heights in matters of immigration, would be likely to try to seize control over which non-immigrant groups get to move into Sterling Heights. With the legal precedent set that we can control who immigrates here, what would stop whoever is in this group from enacting limits forbidding any other group to move here?
What would stop this group from deciding that the only people who can come here are people just like them?
Verna Babula wants to expand the power of government enormously. She wants to take control over the direction of the lives of thousands of people. And she, of all people, who are (ridiculously, in my opinion) concerned about state-sponsored surveillance via Smart Meters, ought to know that the solution to a problem is not more government.
Her plans must not come to pass.
I took some time today and cooked up a Youtube Video summarizing some of the reasons why I personally feel that Paul Smith and the Challenger Candidates are not a good choice for Sterling Heights.
I am currently working on full coverage of the election and the candidates, to be released very soon.
In the meantime, enjoy the video!
The other day I found the following post on Paul Smith’s campaign Facebook page:
He has zero respect for educated millennials. The “3 young kids” he is referring to are a 32 year old attorney with an undergrad in economics with a wife and three kids (not to mention 6 years experience as an elected official in Sterling Heights); the other is in his late 30’s and VP of government affairs for Wayne State school of Medicine with a masters and numerous political endeavors and experience; and the third is also in his late 30’s and is a high school economics and government teacher with a masters degree teaching our truly young kids, who has a wife and two kids with another on the way!
Of course, she’s absolutely right, but it goes deeper than that.
This isn’t just an anti-Millennial bias at work. This doesn’t speak very well of his opinion of senior citizens, either. It’s apparent he’s courting the senior vote with comments like this. In his attempt to get elected, he’s looking at the people most likely to vote for him, and apparently has come to the conclusion that they’re more likely to be older than not. Talking about “those young kids” should play well to that group, right? After all, it’s the young people who are screwing up the country, er, I mean city, with their tolerance for gays and their anti-xenophobic sentiments, right Mr. Smith? So what does he do? He attempts to make age an issue in the campaign, despite the fact that the people he’s trying to belittle are indeed fully-fledged adults.
It takes a certain cynicism to assume that you’re going to be able to sway a majority of the electorate based on a jingoistic theme such as “those young kids.” For one thing, you have to believe it yourself. For another, you have to hope that everyone else in your own age group will buy into it too and just vote for the older man because “he’s one of us” regardless of any of his other qualities.
It is a precariously one-dimensional view of the world that informs this sort of behavior. It means that you only look at the world superficially, without the insight required to remember that these elderly folks have adult children who are about the same age as Mr. Smith’s opposition. A lot of these people are quite proud of their kids, adore the grandchildren they have brought into their lives, and are old enough and experienced enough to look favorably on times changing. I have met Mayor Taylor’s grandparents; they are not young people, but they stump for him at a polling site regularly every other November. I would not be surprised to find out the same is true for Mr. Nate Shannon or Mr. Doug Skrzyniarz. At the very least, I am sure they receive the support and good wishes of the elders in their own families. And I’m sure that they all consider themselves to be young at heart.
Significant amounts of time, money and effort are being expended by everyone in this race, including by “those young kids”. Two of them have been elected to office in a year when Mr. Smith’s own attempt to be elected failed. Nobody is taking this election as a joke. Nobody. Comments like this just further exemplify the sort of biased, bigoted thoughts that rattle around in Mr. Smith’s brain.
Paul Smith complained during the Meet the Candidates event that the city is about to squander “a million dollars” on a new bridge in Dodge Park. He further stated that this would be done to further the interest of commercializing the parks. Here are the facts.
The city has received a $651,000 federal grant via SEMCOG to replace the bridge. An additional $279,000 for the project will be funded directly by the city, resulting in a net expenditure of $930,000, which is not quite “a million dollars.” So, speaking strictly in terms of finances, Mr. Smith is overstating the cost of the bridge by 7%.
According to a press release by the city, the bridge has been examined and found to be structurally deficient, and it has been temporarily repaired until it can be replaced. So much for Mr. Smith’s claim that the existing bridge is perfectly good. Like the rest of the infrastructure in southeastern Michigan, this bridge is subject to the wear and tear of four seasons, and it is showing its age.
For your consideration are a couple of pictures of the bridge in question. The first two show what things look like during most of the year.
Nothing more than a relatively idyllic scene, right? What could possibly be wrong with this bridge?
Take a look at what happens when the river runs high, which is at least a couple of times per year in the spring.
As you can see, and as Mr. Smith recently complained, there are debris floating in the river all the time. The river often rises up to the level of the bridge, where the debris can impact its structure with considerable force.
It is no wonder this bridge has been deemed structurally deficient. As you can see in the photos, the bridge structure is rusting. It withstands significant impacts annually from floating debris when the river rises up. It has a wooden deck, and wooden safety railings. It is substandard and obsolete.
The bridge is also narrow. It is hard for two people on bicycles to pass each other going in opposite directions, and if someone on a wheelchair is on the bridge, he has to pretty much have it to himself.
Further, if somebody gets injured on one side of the bridge, and the closest emergency help is on the other side, there is no getting a vehicle across the current bridge. First responders will have to expend precious time going to a crossing point that can support a vehicle.
What’s more, the bridge is going to be part of a new nature trail that runs from southeastern Michigan all the way up to the Upper Peninsula. This nature trail is going to be busy. Probably at least as busy as the trail that runs along Metropolitan Parkway, if not more. An antiquated, narrow bridge such as this is not up to the task of supporting that level of traffic day in and day out. It will be a safety hazard and a bottleneck.
But according to Mr. Smith, upgrading it is a waste of money, even though the majority of the money is coming in from a federal grant. His good friend Janice Daniels famously rejected a large federal grant when she was the Mayor of Troy, MI. She claimed that spending $9M on a train station was a waste of taxpayer money so she blocked it. She got tossed out on her ear in a subsequent recall election for, curiously, making the same sort of homophobic comments that Mr. Smith has been known to make in public settings on signs.
Mr. Smith isn’t just for refusing to build this badly needed bridge. He’s against any use of taxpayer dollars that do not fit his personal needs. He’s been making statements on Facebook to the effect that the city should use the money to build sidewalks instead…through commercially-zoned areas where few if any people actually walk. Mr. Smith and his wife walk there, though, so that should become the priority, apparently.
It’s no longer a secret that I was approached several weeks ago by the Chamber of Commerce’s Wayne Oehmke to prepare some questions for last night’s Meet the Candidates event. Reporters from The Macomb Daily and The Source also supplied questions.
I supplied ten questions, five for the Mayoral candidates, and five for the Council candidates. In the end, three of my five Mayoral candidate questions were used in the debate, and three of my five Council candidate questions were used.
Since the event is now over, I’m releasing the questions. The ones that were used during the event will appear with an asterisk (*) before them.
I really wanted the Smart Meter question to be asked, but since the “Smart Meter candidates” chose to skip the event, perhaps it is just as well.
My sincerest of thanks to Mr. Wayne Oehmke for this honor and opportunity. I was very pleased to contribute to this event in a material way. If all goes according to plan and the creek doesn’t run high, I hope to do the same thing in 2017. However, I was informed last night that it was Mr. Oehmke’s final Meet the Candidates event, as he is currently in the run-up to his retirement next Spring at 75 years of age, followed shortly thereafter by his upcoming marriage! Congratulations, sir, thank you for your service to our community, and best of luck to you in your retirement and new marriage!
Moreover, thank you very much to the readers of this blog! You are the reason why I keep plugging away at this, and I derive great pleasure from being able to be involved in our city’s politics at this level. Simply put, without you, I wouldn’t have opportunities like this. I truly appreciate your willingness to read, agree or disagree with me, and tell your friends. Thank you!
Questions for Mayoral Candidates
*1. Both of you gentlemen served our community as City Council members, and both of you were in conflict with the other council members during your first terms in office. As Mayor, having a good working relationship with all council members is crucial. Did you overcome your initial difficulties with the other members of council, and what will you do to keep the working relationships healthy and strong, even if the members of council are not the people who you are running with?
*2. The Mayor’s personal actions and statements reflect heavily on the city’s image and influence people and businesses who are considering a move to Sterling Heights. The city strives to provide a welcoming environment to all, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation. How well do you think your own public image will serve the city’s need to be welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds? Do you agree that being welcome to such diversity is beneficial to the city?
3. In the summer of 2014, City Council unanimously passed an ordinance forbidding discrimination against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. The ordinance was eventually struck down after a petition drive successfully forced council to either put it to a vote of the public or rescind the ordinance. Each of you two gentlemen were on opposite sides of this issue. Can you explain why you were either for or against it at the time, and tell us whether you have changed your mind on the issue since then?
4. Our city is populated by people from a wide variety of religious faiths and groups that don’t always get along smoothly. Recently an issue arose where a new Islamic mosque was proposed in a residential area on 15 Mile Road, and there was turmoil in the city as a result. Can you explain what you feel the proper role is for the Mayor when the city is facing a conflict such as this?
*5. Our city’s charter mandates that certain types of decisions are made by volunteer residents serving on boards and commissions. The code of ethics specifies that the Mayor and members of council not exert undue influence on those boards and commissions, which are staffed by people nominated and approved by council. What is your philosophy regarding this restriction and how do you intend to honor it?
Questions for City Council Candidates
*1. Do you agree or disagree with the assertion that as a City Council member, you are bound to make your decisions in strict accordance with the laws of the city, state, and federal government, as applicable, regardless of your personal, religious, or political feelings about the law?
*2. With the sunset of the Michigan Personal Property tax, some replacement revenue is supposed to come from Lansing. If this replacement revenue leaves a large gap in funding, will you cut services or raise taxes?
3. For approximately five years, a great deal of time during City Council meetings has been spent discussing the issue of so-called Smart Meters. Some think that City Council should ban the installation of these meters in Sterling Heights, while others say this issue is outside Council’s purview. What do you think?
*4. One persistent issue in Sterling Heights concerns the emergency services provided by the Police and Fire Department and the costs associated with each. Do you feel Sterling Heights has a good model for how these services are provided, and if you would change anything about how those services are provided, what would it be and why?
5. Can you explain to the audience how you feel about the non-partisan nature of City Council, and whether or not you feel it is appropriate for the Council to remain officially neutral in the perpetual political debate between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party?
This morning, as I scanned the Facebook pages of local candidates, I came across this item on Mayoral Candidate Paul Smith’s page:
I would like to call your attention to the comment he posted on Tuesday, September 29 at 6:02PM, where Mr. Smith states “As of September 29th, Taylor’s illegal sign still stands. This will not be forgotten. (emphasis added)”
Not being privy to Mr. Smith’s innermost thoughts, it is difficult to know for certain what he means here. If we were to be charitable, we might surmise that Mr. Smith has decided he will no longer purchase his submarine sandwiches from Jimmy John’s or his coffee from Starbucks. That would be his prerogative, and completely understandable. Why support the business of somebody who doesn’t support your campaign, right?
But the fact of the matter is that Mr. Smith has already been in office as a city councilman before, and his past behavior gives us some clues as to what his future behavior might be. During his brief, single term in office, Mr. Smith made quite the show of throwing his weight around. A few examples immediately come to mind:
- A well-documented attempt to improperly influence the members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals to vote against a business Mr. Smith did not want to come to Sterling Heights,
- An incident where Mr. Smith attempted to use his “authority” as a member of City Council to order the driver of a piece of heavy earth moving equipment to stop operating it on a public road,
- An incident where Mr. Smith was thrown out of a local car dealership after he took issue with a sign supporting a tax increase posted in front of the business and chose to create a scene in the showroom.
Mr. Smith has little patience for people who oppose him. As you can see above, in the past he used his elected office as a cudgel to attempt to silence his opposition, improperly influence the city’s boards and commissions and act outside of his authority.
So, in consideration of the man we’re talking about here, it’s probably pretty safe to conclude this is a veiled threat. Next question: who is he threatening?
It seems to me he could be threatening Mayor Taylor, who maintains that he has the proper signed form for the campaign sign. Of course, he’s trying to defeat the mayor in the current campaign, and if he wins, he will have had a significant victory.
He could be threatening Code Enforcement with not enforcing what he feels is the law regarding campaign signs. This seems more likely, since he would have significant influence over Code Enforcement if elected.
But I think the most likely case is that he is threatening the property owners that authorized the sign. This fits the pattern of his previous behavior most closely.
I cannot predict what exactly Mr. Smith intends to do to these property owners if he is elected and gets the chance. One can only speculate that he will do the same sort of things he tried to do the last time in office. If Mr. Smith is elected mayor, or a majority of his running mates are elected to City Council, It is not a big stretch of the imagination to come up with a few possible scenarios:
- If they ever have business before a city council that Mr. Smith or his fellow challenger candidates control, they can probably expect to have their request rejected. For example, they might want a piece of property rezoned for a future business venture, which requires an act of council. A request of this nature would probably be denied on Mr. Smith’s watch, regardless of its merits.
- If the property owners ever find themselves in some sort of trouble with the code enforcement arm of the city, they will probably find that Mr. Smith has lodged the complaint, and is attempting to influence the code enforcement division to pursue the matter to the extreme.
- Should Mr. Smith find he has the opportunity to do so, he might use his influence as Mayor to benefit one of their competitors, disparage their business, or otherwise repay them for this perceived slight.
Were Mr. Smith a reasonable man with whom I merely disagree on matters of politics, I would have to chalk this all up to a poor word choice on his part and leave it at that. Most of the time, when you don’t know a man’s thoughts or motives, you should give him the benefit of the doubt unless you have past experience that indicates otherwise.
In Mr. Smith’s case, however, we do have the past experience with his past behavior, especially his outbursts. They are so frequent I have come to think of them as ‘Smithsplosions’. In my opinion, his past behavior portends bad things for those property owners.
If I were them, I would be seriously concerned. And that, precisely, is the effect his words are intended to have. He is trying to intimidate them into taking Mr. Taylor’s sign down.
If the sign disappears before the election, you will know that he succeeded in intimidating them.