Candidates talk about priorities at forum

Sense of community, public safety and quality of life are common themes

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 25, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — The general election is this Tuesday, Nov. 5, where voters will decide the new Madison Heights City Council, choosing from six candidates running for three four-year terms. 

At a candidate forum Oct. 16, five of the six candidates shared a bit about themselves and their goals. Newcomer Robert Morelli was absent. The Madison Heights Community Round Table arranged the forum, which took place in a conference room at St. John Oakland Macomb Hospital. Madison District Public Schools Superintendent Randy Speck moderated.

Newcomer Mark Bliss went first. He noted how many streets in Madison Heights have families that have been there for multiple generations. In his eyes, this makes Madison Heights a “community” rather than just another city. Bliss is a third-generation Madison Heights resident; his father and grandfather both lived in the city before him. Now, he’s raising the fourth generation: his two children.

“My biggest priority, if given the opportunity to serve on City Council, is to keep Madison Heights a community,” Bliss said. “I want to keep it as safe and as prosperous as it was when my dad was growing up here, and when I was growing up here.” 

Bliss also noted his experience as the manager of a division of a software company. He makes decisions every day that have upwards of $1 million in budget ramifications — not the $50 million of a city budget, he conceded, but experience nonetheless. He later noted his ministry work as a financial advisor for seniors and young couples, helping them budget for the future at no cost to them.

“This experience, along with my history and love of this community, make me I think I would be a great fit moving forward,” Bliss said.

Incumbent Richard Clark followed Bliss. He talked about how City Council is always looking for grants, including public safety grants, but it’s a careful process since, sometimes, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. He also said he’s not going to blow “smoke rings” at voters and say they’ll hire more police or firemen.

“At the present time, the budget just won’t allow it, as much as we’d like to,” Clark said. “But I will be working on community policing, where when the police are out, the reserves, the firemen, if they see someone cutting their grass, they’ll stop and talk to them and help regain trust.”

Clark promised to ward off the threat of child abduction by educating residents on how to deter stranger-dangers. This would include a visual presence in the form of markers on their cars indicating they’re part of a local watch group.

He also wants to expand the Senior Home Assistance Repair Program for minor household repairs. He’s a SHARP volunteer, himself.

Clark also mentioned how city taxes alone are more than $700, but they pay for a variety of services and recreational offerings that make Madison Heights the envy of other cities. He said someone is saying city staff is “top-heavy,” but he disagrees. Top officials, such as the assistant city manager, are cross-trained to cover each other’s backs and more than justify their cost.

Incumbent Bob Gettings was next. He mentioned his long history in the city, including his work with the Madison Heights Recreation Department since 1967. Now retired, he said he continues to fight for the city’s recreational offerings, as well as key services.

“Some of the experiences I’ve encountered working for the city are budget preparation, problem-solving, cost-cutting measures, etc.,” Gettings said. He said he hasn’t missed a single council meeting. “I believe these experiences have kept me involved with the city. … Years of firsthand experience have highlighted my awareness of the needs of the community. I have voted with my heart on each and every issue.”

This includes voting to cut his own pay as a City Councilmember by 10 percent in 2010. Gettings has also been involved and continues to be involved in many groups, including Little League Football, Little League Baseball, youth basketball and more. He also served eight years on the Madison Board of Education.

Newcomer Andy McGillivray, son of Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray, followed Gettings. He’s lived in Madison Heights his whole life and has been involved in such groups as the Jaycees and the Save the Parade Committee, as well as Little League Baseball, Boy Scouts and more.

“The reason I’m running for council is I’ve sat on the side, been around it all my life. As you know, my father … (spent) years on council. Just being around him, I decided I wanted to take my turn with it.”

Among his priorities are working with police and fire to find public safety grants, and working with code enforcement to better regulate the upkeep of rental houses. He also wants to support small businesses, eliminating some of the red tape involved in opening a business in the city, and helping them to understand what it takes to open shop.

Then there’s newcomer David M. Soltis, current treasurer of the Madison Heights Community Round Table. He’s also involved with Madison Heights Youth Assistance, the Madison Heights Community Family Coalition and SHARP. Recently, he completed city manager training as part of an internship for his master’s degree in public administration.

A father of three — his 9-year-old son is his campaign manager, he said — Soltis wants to give back to the seniors who made the city what it is, expanding SHARP, transportation options and meals assistance. He also wants to proactively stop child abduction and promote “a solid foundation in principles and values” for children by continuing to support Youth Assistance and the Community Family Coalition.

“I’m not a politician. … You won’t see me run for more than two terms. If I can’t make a difference in eight years, then I won’t be here,” Soltis said. “This is my way of giving back to the community.”

Soltis said he’s passionate about helping people. He’s been in healthcare for 11 years. His mother was widowed when he was growing up, so he and his siblings know how it is to struggle to make ends meet.

“This is what I see in Madison Heights: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Soltis said. “I want to bring a fresh perspective and some energy to council.”

All of the candidates said they wanted to see more collaboration between the Madison and Lamphere school districts. Bliss suggested a shared Web portal for coordinating efforts.

One audience member asked what they would do if the city received an unexpected $1 million in extra revenue. Bliss said he’d save the majority of it in a rainy day fund, should the city need to dip into reserves. He’d also want to pass down savings to the taxpayers, however slight.

Gettings and Clark would put it toward expanding public safety and recreation; McGillivray would defer to city staff’s opinion, weighing the short-term and long-term options, including the possibility of hiring more staff to improve city services; and Soltis summed up his spending priorities as “seniors, youth and public safety.”

The general election is this Tuesday, Nov. 5. For more information about voting, call the Madison Heights City Clerk’s Office at (248) 583-0826.