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Grosse Pointe Farms

October 9, 2012

Farms Council to choose election or appointment next week

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — City leaders are hoping a proposed compromise could be the answer to how to fill the late City Council member Joseph Leonard’s vacant seat.
City Attorney William Burgess told the council they have two options: Appoint someone to serve until the next regular city election, in November 2013, or hold a special election. Because there isn’t time to get candidates on the November ballot, that would mean the city would need to conduct, and pay for, a special election in February. If the council doesn’t take action within 60 days of the vacancy — in this case, Oct. 19 — they would automatically have to hold a special election, Burgess said.

During a special work session Oct. 1, City Council member Peter Waldmeir proposed a compromise between those options. Council members were reluctant to name someone who would run for re-election, not wanting to give the power of incumbency to an appointee, but also didn’t want to hold a special election for only a single candidate. City Manager/City Clerk Shane Reeside said the February election would likely cost the city $10,000-$15,000.

Waldmeir suggested that if, by the next regular City Council meeting Oct. 15, at least two of those who applied for the vacancy said they would run in February, the city could hold a special election. If less than two of the nine applicants expressed a desire to run for the seat, he proposed having the council appoint a candidate who said he or she wouldn’t run for re-election.

Although asking the applicants if they would run wasn’t legally binding, Waldmeir said it would at least give officials a sense of whether or not they could anticipate a contested special election. Calling the list of applicants “neither exhaustive nor restrictive,” Burgess also pointed out that any other interested residents would have the option to file nominating petitions to run for the seat in the coming months.

Patricia Leonard, one of Joseph Leonard’s daughters, applied to complete her father’s term. An attorney, she told Farms officials she is planning a move from Grosse Pointe Woods to the Farms, where she was raised. Others applying for the seat included: Sean P. Cotton, chief legal counsel and vice president of human resources with Meridian Health Plan Inc.; James K. Fisher, who has worked for General Motors for the last 28 years; former City Council member Lisa Mower Gandelot, a former elementary school teacher and nonprofit development director who now works for the estate planning and wealth preservation law firm Gandelot & Associates in the Farms; attorney Douglas W. Jones, a former elected township supervisor for Grosse Ile; Joe Ricci, an owner/operator of auto dealerships; businessman and lifelong Farms resident Mark D. Steiner; former Grosse Pointe Public School Board President John Steininger; and former write-in City Council candidate Elizabeth Vogel, an active member of the city’s new Communications Committee who works as an executive assistant.

Of those applicants, Patricia Leonard, Mower Gandelot and Steiner said they didn’t plan to run for re-election. The other applicants either said they might contemplate a future election bid, or didn’t address the issue in their materials. For their part, Vogel and Cotton both said after the meeting that they would like to consider a run for council.

Reeside said candidates for council could either get nominating petitions signed by at least 50 valid registered Farms voters, or file with a $100 fee and not have to submit petitions.

Waldmeir said he believed the democratic process was important, and City Council member Lev Wood agreed.

“No matter how many or how few people come out, it still is an election,” said Wood in response to the concern from some officials over anticipated light voter turnout for what is expected to be a single-issue special election.

City Council members Martin West and Therese Joseph voiced some reservations about spending the money on a February election. As West — an appointee himself — pointed out, anyone named to the seat would only serve until next November, roughly 13 months. West also saw the value of electing someone.

Joseph noted that anyone interested in running for the council could do so next fall, since that’s when the next regular city election is scheduled.

“I have a hard time having an election in February,” said Joseph, expressing concerns about the expense and time of conducting one.

If the council does decide to appoint someone, some council members called for naming the person with the most experience, especially considering the steep learning curve and short duration of the appointed term.

The council informally agreed to follow Waldmeir’s model. They couldn’t vote Oct. 1 because the meeting was a work session. Officials are expected to take formal action during their next meeting, which, at press time, was slated to begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 in City Council chambers at City Hall. Visit www.ci.grosse-pointe-farms.mi.us for an agenda or more information.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.