Mayor wants to end civic service on high note

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

 

SOUTHGATE — One of the city’s longest-serving elected officials has decided to call it quits.

 

After serving for 26 years as a city councilwoman and mayor — more than half the years of the city’s existence  — Mayor Norma Wurmlinger recently announced she will not seek re-election in November. The filing deadline is June 23.

 

“There wasn’t any one thing,” Wurmlinger said. “I just thought it was time to step down. I’m not upset with anybody or any thing.”

 

Her city service began with a 1975 appointment to the Cultural Commission. The following year she was part of committee that planned the first Heritage Days event.

 

Wurmlinger then was elected to the council, where she served for 13 years, including nine as its president. From 1991 to 1999 she was mayor before being term limited, then sought and won the job again four years ago.

 

Though Southgate, like other cities, faces some financial challenges in the near future because of a recession that has hit Michigan especially hard, that’s not the reason she’s leaving.

 

“It’s not the economy, Wurmlinger said. “We’ve had problems before, especially in a tough time in the early ’80s when we had a major recession, and we survived. We don’t have a budget deficit, and we have a 5 percent fund balance — which is not bad these days.

 

“I just thought it was time to let somebody else come in after 26 years as an elected official.”

 

The city had to borrow money to pay payroll in the late 1970s early ’80s, she said, and for six years had 13-month budgets in order to get online with the state’s budget schedule “Eventually we were able to put money aside and do some projects,” Wurmlinger said.

 

The mid-1990s prosperity saw a lot of building in the city and lot of development, she said, which is one of things she’s proud to have been associated with as mayor.

 

There have been too many other points of pride during her service to recall all of them, but Wurmlinger did note a few of her favorites.

 

She worked to secure a grant for a 40-acre nature center built in 1999 near Southgate Anderson High School, which was built on 17 acres of school district property and 23 adjacent acres that once belonged to a private owner who was planning a development there.

 

“I drove him around the city to find another spot,” Wurmlinger said.

 

The grant application was turned down twice, she said, adding that she used her influence with late local industrialist Heinz Prechter to influence his friend U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn). Wurmlinger also met with then-Gov. John Engler, who told her who to meet with to follow it through.

 

She’s also proud that the city in 1995 was able to move the house that’s home to its historical museum to the civic complex without using tax dollars. The move was paid for by “contributions, donations and fundraisers,” she said.

 

For the city’s 40th anniversary in 1998, a gazebo was built at the civic complex grounds that now is the site of concerts and other events. That, too, was made possible by donated money and labor.

 

Wurmlinger also is proud to have ended her first stint as mayor in 1999 with the highest surplus the city has ever had, and says its Parks and Recreation programs are first-rate.

 

Some of those have had to be canceled as part of recent budget cuts, though she says that despite the financial issues that have cropped up from time to time, the city hasn’t had to lay off any employees, although some part-time positions will go unfilled as people retire.

 

“We’re still going to provide all the services we always have,” Wurmlinger said. “We’re going to survive. I’m always optimistic.

 

“I kind of want to go out on a high note.”

 

In spite of the current challenges, she said, “I’m sure I will miss the job and the people. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people through years and hope to stay in touch with a lot of them.”

 

Wurmlinger also plans to catch up on her reading — things besides minutes, reports and agendas — and spend time with friends and a family that includes 11 grandchildren, three of who live in the area.

 

She plans to keep a close eye on city politics, however, and says she will be endorsing a possible successor after the August primaries.

 

“I put my heart and soul into the job,” Wurmlinger said, “and hopefully they’ll do the same.”

 

Career Highlights

 

• Working to help bring businesses of all sizes to the city.

 

• Helping to make Southgate the “dining capital of Downriver” with fast food and fine dining restaurants, including Michigan’s first Sonic.

 

• Implementing a road millage 13 years ago and improving city streets ever since.

 

• Passage of a millage to expand Veteran’s Memorial Library.

 

• Installation of solar technology at the library and city golf course clubhouse.

 

• A Eureka Road streetscape project this summer funded by the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

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