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Bloomfield Hills

October 23, 2013

Bloomfield Hills commission hopefuls take the stage for candidate forum

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — It was a split panel of two incumbents and two newcomers at the Bloomfield Hills City Commission candidate forum, held at City Hall the evening of Oct. 17.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters Oakland Area, the forum gave the four candidates a chance to field anonymous questions from the crowd about the city and what they would focus on if elected to the commission.

Each of the candidates had something else to boast about. Commissioner Pat Hardy cited her long experience on the commission and esteemed character as reasons she should be re-elected. Commissioner Stuart Sherr, appointed last year to replace outgoing Commissioner Michael McCready, noted several times throughout the evening that he has a wealth of experience as an attorney, certified public accountant, real estate broker and business owner when he discussed why voters should keep him on.

Resident Michael Coakley, also an attorney, stressed an interest in improving infrastructure in the city if elected to the commission as his first public office. Mark Kapel, a retiree who has run for City Commission before, vowed to get residents more involved in city matters and municipal decisions if elected to a seat.

The evening began with opening statements, followed by a question from the crowd concerning city finances. Coakley acknowledged that the city is in good financial shape now because of increased real estate sales, but challenges could arise down the line as the city prepares to make road improvements. He said that if the city were not able to come up with appropriate funding, budget adjustments might need to be made to accommodate the work.

Hardy agreed, saying that the city’s finances are in good shape, despite being around $100,000 off balance this year. But, she said, the overage isn’t a reason for concern with such a healthy general fund balance. In addition, she suspects the housing boom will continue to bring more residents to the city, and in turn, more revenue.

Kapel, however, disagreed that things were quiet on the financial front. He alleged a lack of transparency in spending. He also expressed concerns about the Road Asset Management Program and its cost to the city.

Sherr explained that, in terms of finance management, he has “the right skill set to address the city’s issues.” The first of those issues, he claimed, would be to reach a balanced budget, noting that the $111,000 deficit in the general fund this last year was a problem. He said he doesn’t believe in deficit spending unless there’s an emergency situation. With a new city treasurer, new accounting procedures and increased tax revenue coming, he believes the budget will be back on track, and the city’s bond rating will remain AAA.

On the topic of the national Complete Streets initiative, none of the candidates seemed to outwardly oppose the concept, though all seemed to agree that consulting residents would be essential before any work is considered.

Stemming from that question, candidates were relatively split on the idea of walking and safety paths around the city. Hardy supported the idea, saying that she often sees pedestrians traveling along Woodward Avenue, and she believes the route is hazardous without a proper walking path.

Kapel and Coakley were indifferent, saying that if elected, they would seek residential input on the idea of walking paths. Kapel said he knows residents who are frustrated with not being able to safely cross the street to restaurants in the city, but he also knows residents who oppose the idea of a path being built in front of their property. Coakley said that if safety paths were of true interest to residents, he would advise the city seek grants to fund the endeavor.

Sherr, on the other hand, said he doesn’t think walking paths are right for Bloomfield Hills, and he believes residents reflect that opinion.

“We’re not a community best served by walking paths, and frankly, we don’t have the funds at present time to install those paths,” said Sherr. “In the city survey done a year and a half ago, 58 percent of residents opposed a millage for paving.”

The theme of seeking resident input echoed through other questions asked during the forum: questions about infrastructure concerns and revamping the Master Plan, which is slated to happen next year.

On the topic of communication, Coakley joined the two incumbents in saying the city does a satisfactory job of relaying information to its residents. All three hailed the City of Bloomfield Hills website, newsletter and email updates, and the access to government meetings on cable.

Kapel, however, claimed that the efforts were far from adequate, comparing the newsletter — released about five times a year — to his blog, which has been updated hundreds of times during that same period. He said that if elected, he could ramp up communication efforts at no cost to the city, and the improved communication would yield more civic involvement. 

All of the candidates agreed that further commercial development should be handled carefully to prevent businesses from encroaching into the predominately residential area. They all acknowledged, however, that commercial business is an essential part of the city’s tax base.

“We do need a certain amount of business development. Banking, medical, small office parks — we need the right mix, and I would continue that,” said Coakley.

Towards the end of the evening, the general consensus among the candidates continued. All four agreed that senior services are a priority for commissioners, and they agreed that the city’s contract with Baldwin Public Library is a positive relationship for the community. Three of the candidates said that they support the four amendments to the Bloomfield Hills city charter that will be on the ballot this November, calling it general housekeeping. Kapel again dissented from the group, saying he doesn’t support proposals A or C.

As the evening closed, the candidates again explained why they thought they would make the best choice for one of the three commission seats up for grabs. Coakley, again, cited his interest in maintaining the quality of life Hills residents enjoy, and expressed that updating infrastructure is a primary way to do that. Sherr, again, cited his professional achievements and endorsements.

Hardy said she’s proud of the works she’s done on the commission, her honesty and her ability to see potential in others.

“I have the talent to recognize other people’s talents. I’m really proud of that,” she said. “I’m optimistic and honest. Sometimes, I’ve said things that people didn’t want to hear.”

Kapel said his desire to involve the public in civic matters and his attendance and dedication to city politics makes him a desirable commissioner. There are other traits that set him apart, as well, he said.

“We don’t need five attorneys. We need a diversity of talent on the commission,” he said.

The election for Bloomfield Hills City Commission, as well as four charter amendments, will take place Nov. 5. For more information, visit the City of Bloomfield Hills website at www.bloomfieldhillsmi.net.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.