Farmington Hills council candidates discuss roads, wetlands, schools

By: Sherri Kolade, | Farmington Press | Published October 11, 2017

FARMINGTON HILLS — What does the future of local road funding look like for residents and their wallets? 

How will city leaders encourage environmental sustainability once elected? 

Those were among the many topics discussed during a Farmington Hills mayoral and City Council candidate forum Oct. 3 at City Hall. Four candidates are running for three council seats. The highest three vote-getters will receive four-year terms during the Nov. 7 general election. One candidate is running unopposed for a two-year mayoral term.

The Farmington Hills Council of Homeowner Associations, the League of Women Voters Oakland Area and the Farmington Hills Committee to Increase Voter Participation hosted the forum.

Mayor Ken Massey is running unopposed to retain his seat. City Council incumbents Valerie Knol, Samantha Steckloff and Michael Bridges are seeking re-election against challenger Mary Newlin. 

A three-person panel asked the candidates questions taken from the audience and the forum hosts; audience members also asked questions directly.

Massey said Farmington Hills residents have confidence in the leadership that is currently in place.

“I am very proud of these last couple of years,” he said.

Moderator Andy Nickelhoff, of the COHA,  allowed one-minute audience questions, which primarily were about roads.

Massey said local funding for roads in the city charter has always been paid for by special assessment districts. 

“Also, (the) charter limits what the city can put in (for) roads,” he said of the city’s 20 percent cap, leaving 80 percent to be paid by homeowners in the assessment districts.

Massey said that at the time the city charter was formed, 90 percent of the city’s roads were unpaved. Now, 96 percent of its roads are paved, and the city is looking at another road payment option.

“(We have) heard that SAD is not the tool a lot of our residents want,” Massey said, adding that the City Council sent charter amendment ballot language to allow a road millage to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, but the language  — which sought to exempt residents already paying on an SAD — was rejected.

Assistant City Manager Gary Mekjian said in September that the ballot language was designed to exempt property owners currently involved in an active SAD from a pending road millage until their SAD had expired.

Massey said previously that SADs have ranged from $10,000 to upwards of $19,000 per home.

“(The city is) looking at a subsequent ballot or special ballot,” he said.

Massey also said that through his leadership, the lifesaving drug naloxone — which helps opoid overdose victims — is now carried in police cars. “We’ve gotten a lot done,” he said.

Steckloff, 33, an enrollment management coordinator at Wayne State University, said she has been involved in local government since she was 10 years old, creating change at an early age. 

Knol, 47, a manager of state and local government relations at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC, said that she has lived in the area for more than 20 years and was elected to the Farmington City Council, where she spent eight years.

Bridges, 60, a sales and marketing professional, said that he is proud that the city is a global community, and he plans to help it continue to be poised for growth.

Newlin, 55, a manager for United Healthcare, said that she is the new face running, and she has lived in Farmington Hills for 30 years where she raised three children, who attended Farmington Public Schools.

Moderator Deb Kendzierski, chair for the Committee to Increase Voter Participation, asked the candidates why they want the job of council member.

Bridges said that his “passion for public service” arises from his early experience in community college.

“I have a genuine compassion for the city,” Bridges said.

Newlin said she has heard from residents that “they’re not really being understood” from a financial perspective.

“Road assessments got me here on the seat; we need to know that City Council hears us. … Our residents need to have a voice,” she said.

Steckloff said that she has lived in the city her entire life.

“Farmington Hills is a home to me,” she said, adding that after college, she came back. She said that helping create laws is a passion of hers. “I want to live the rest of my life here — want to see my friends live the rest of their lives here.”

Knol said that her parents inspired her with their volunteerism.

“After a while, you see they’re helping make a difference in the community and they teach you the value of that,” she said, adding that she moved to Farmington Hills after college and became involved in her 20s.

“This is where I’m raising my children. I want to stay here, and I want them to be able to stay here,” she said.

Candidates were asked for their thoughts on city environmental sustainability.

Newlin said she was shocked to learn that many condominium complexes don’t have the ability to recycle.

“I was very surprised, because I live in a house,” she said, adding that her house backs up to 16 acres of vacant property on the city’s south end. “I would be supportive of looking at what parts of our community are not recycling.”

She added that she wants to look into having the 16 acres land banked.

“I’ve been very involved for a long time (in) preserving natural habitats,” she said.

Steckloff, who has been active in city wetland preservation, said that sustainability is a top priority. She said that more green buildings, like the City Hall building, are one example of sustainability measures. She added that the city could also offer more options for nonmotorized transportation. 

“There are so many more things the city can still do that are important to me,” she said.

Knol said that Farmington Hills is doing its best to try to be sustainable.

“As you know, we are pretty much built out, but have open space,” she said, adding that the city has one of the highest recycling rates in the state. “So we are walking the talk when it comes to recycling. We are also working on walkability, again, which has to do with sustainability.”

She added that the city can’t just put a sidewalk to nowhere. It has to connect and be sustainable. 

Bridges said that Farmington Hills has always been a leader in sustainability, and he is looking at regional efforts to help improve the city’s environmental causes.

Eva Packard, vice president of voter service for the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said during a follow-up email that the forum gives residents a look at their future leaders.

“I do think the forum provided viewers information about the candidates’ background and their views (regarding) issues relevant to Farmington Hills residents,” she said.

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent George Heitsch discussed a Headlee Amendment restoration millage that is also on the ballot. For more on that issue, visit www.candgnews.com and click on the “Farmington Press” tab at the top left, or see the Oct. 4 issue of the Press.

The candidates all said they support the restoration millage. 

The forum will run periodically on Channel 8 for Spectrum cable users.

For more information about voting in the November election, go to www.lwvoa.org.