Mayoral, treasurer challengers seek change

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — A crowded field of candidates bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the Aug. 6 primary election, yet agree on the key challenges facing the city: a long-standing financial crisis, concerns about public safety and a contentious political atmosphere that has created additional barriers.

What officials say may be a record number of candidates are seeking office for terms of mayor, treasurer, clerk and seven city council seats that expire in November. Other than the clerk’s office, for which incumbent Cynthia Bower and challenger Jill Brandana, currently serving on council, each of the positions is being sought by enough candidates to require a primary.

Both the mayor’s and treasurer’s offices are being sought by three candidates, from which voters will be asked to send two forward to the November general election; and 26 names are on the ballot in the contest for city council, and the top 14 vote-getters will advance beyond the primary.

For the city’s top job, incumbent Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand is asking voters for a second term after being elected to the post in 2009 after a four-year term on council. Lamarand has had an admittedly rocky mayoral tenure, which included an attempted recall in 2011 that failed to gain voter support.

Yet, with a five-year deficit reduction plan in progress, Lamarand said the city’s future is bright and that his priorities would be to maintain the progress made toward economic recovery.

“I’d like to continue the upward trend now that we’ve gotten our finances under control,” Lamarand said. “We’re in the recovery stage of building up a fund balance and being able to put money toward infrastructure without having to hit the taxpayers to sustain over-inflated costs.”

Lamarand said recovery remains a long-term effort, and he would like to continue paying off the city’s debt, make better plans for capital infrastructure, and begin addressing a water system and roads that are beginning to deteriorate.

There’s a consensus among candidates — and the public — that reduced staffing in recent years for police and fire services is, perhaps, the city’s top issue to resolve. Lamarand would like to work with the department and employee unions to begin, hand-in-hand with a five-year debt elimination plan, to begin compiling a list of potential hires for those departments.

Recent retirements open the possibility of new police officers, but Lamarand
said voters should not expect the staffing to return to peak levels any time soon.
“I would never say we have enough police,” Lamarand said. “I’d love to have 10 cars a day on the road, but that’s not practical.”

Lamarand’s challengers agree that public safety is a top priority, but would prefer taking a more aggressive approach to staffing issues. Current Councilman Rick Sollars and retired police auxiliary commander John Edwards are both seeking to replace the current mayor, each with an emphasis on police and fire services.

“The public safety system has suffered dramatically under the last three years of leadership, or lack of leadership,” Sollars said.

Sollars, a 1992 graduate of Taylor Center High School and owner of manufacturing companies, is serving his second appointed term on council and has previously served on the planning commission, zoning board of appeals, housing authority and master plan steering committee.

Sollars said the strategy of cutting the budget — and staff — to eliminate the debt is no longer a viable option and that additional and alternative revenues are needed.
“The police department is down by about 20 members,” Sollars said. “We need to look at grant opportunities — we had to force the issue with the SAFER grant. It’s not a long-term solution, but we have to find ways to bring in new hires through new opportunities.”

Some solutions, for police or other aspects of city management, may require more delegation than he said is currently employed.

“We have a police chief who is very capable of coming up with ideas and solutions,” Sollars said. “And I don’t think the administration is allowing department heads to participate enough.”

Or perhaps other officials if not the voters. Sollars said the city’s problems are many, but the solutions which have been tried have fallen short, perhaps due to internal pressure more than challenges from the economy.

“We have to be a community people want to come to,” Sollars said. “What I’ve seen under this administration wasn’t acceptable. This is my second term on council and working with this has been difficult, with a divide-and-conquer mentality.”

Edwards, a relative newcomer to the field as a candidate not currently in office, also views public safety as a top priority, and that the people feel as if the current leadership is too mired in politics to be effective.

“What I hear from people is that they’re just disgusted with the present administration,” Edwards said. “The council bickers back and forth and aren’t able to get along. I plan on working with the council and with the different unions to get the city back to where it needs to be. People are tired of all the fighting at city hall.”

If elected, Edwards said he would place a priority on community and economic development, and getting more people involved in the process. Public safety would be of utmost concern.

“I would search out some grants to help with that,” Edwards said of the funding-staffing dilemma. “And I would let the police and fire departments both run themselves.”

In the treasurer’s race, three newcomers hope to fill the office that had remained vacant following the resignation in 2011 of Wayne Avery before council appointed
former school superintendent Lynn Cleary to the position, service that has not been full-time as Cleary had intended to serve on an interim basis.

Candidates hoping to serve as treasurer include City Council Chairwoman Cheryl Burke, who opted out of returning to the seven-member panel in hopes of restoring full-time service to the office of treasurer. Burke said her motivation is similar to what inspired her four years ago when she ran for and began her first term in office.

“My ambition for council was to try to resolve what I thought was a lack of response to customer service issues,” Burke said. She would like to explore making the treasurer’s office better equipped to provide services and to collect and deposit funds in a timely manner.

“We have a cash flow problem,” Burke said. “My priorities would be to get checks properly processed immediately.” She’s had experience where checks took several days before they were put into the city account, a needless delay.

“There’s no reason to wait,” Burke said. “We do business with most of the banks near city hall. I’d like work with that and customer service.”

Burke said the treasurer’s position is not an active part of council, and her aim would be to properly coordinate with city management.

“The important part of the treasurer and clerk positions are administration,” Burke said. “It’s important to work together but not transfer responsibility to other departments. I’m familiar with the systems that are used at city hall, and have been working on council through the budget process.”

Jaclyn Molner also opted to seek the treasurer’s spot rather than run for her expiring seat on the city council. Molner, first appointed to the panel in 1997, had been considered for the treasurer’s job in 2012 and would embrace the challenge if elected. Given the often-empty office in recent years, Molner said a priority would be on visibility.

“I think I bring a lot of experience, integrity and accountability,” Molner said. “I can be there full time, and I’d like to find out what goes on.”

Molner said the office — as with most city departments — has been short-staffed of late, and she would be prepared to pitch in however necessary to get the job done.

Technology, Molner said, would be a priority to upgrade, as well as collecting back taxes owed. In general, Molner said the municipal complex needs newcomers to bring fresh enthusiasm to the long-standing challenges.

“I feel I would be able to bring a sense of something to bring the morale back up,” Molner said. “There’s so few people; things are at their lowest.”

Having served on the planning commission and zoning board of appeals along with council time, Molner said she understands the role of the treasurer as it fits in with city management.

“As treasurer you’re in the administrative end of government,” Molner said. “I would be able to work with any mayor who’s elected, the administration and also with the council.”

Molner points to her experience: She’s been elected four times and has worked with three mayors. No matter the outcome of the primary election, Taylor will welcome newcomers to the panel this fall, and she’s prepared to help pave the way for a new outlook.

“I could be of assistance to a new council coming in,” Molner said. “Some have experience, others are brand new. I work well with both groups.”

Newcomer Edward Bourassa rounds out the treasurer candidates, a local businessman who was among the names considered for a council appointment to the post last year.

Bourassa was not available to respond for this article prior to press time. The lifelong Taylor resident has worked in personal and business taxes for more than 20 years in the public sector, and on his campaign Facebook page said that he is running as a concerned citizen and not a politician, and is opposed to tax increases and the use of public funds for lawsuits involving internal city council or administration. H said he would encourage city officials to restore lost fire positions and bring back Advanced Life Support services.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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