Political candidates discuss issues during voter forum

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 19, 2016

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — As the General Election looms closer and a number of Clinton Township seats are up for grabs, residents recently had the opportunity to ask for and listen to candidates’ responses on several topics.

On Oct. 4, courtesy of the nonprofit and nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe, candidates running for supervisor, clerk, treasurer and trustee were given equal opportunity to speak to residents in person and via local cable access.

Residents in attendance wrote questions on index cards, with questions screened by volunteers. Questions were asked by Maria Rivera.

First up was the group of candidates vying to become trustees: Republicans Catherine Kirk and Leo Melise; and Democrats Mike Keys, Ken Pearl, Jenifer ‘Joie’ West and Diane Zontini.

Pearl and West are incumbents. Republican Joe Aragona was not present.

The first question asked was why each individual is running for trustee, of which four four-year terms will be determined Nov. 8.

Zontini said she has been an activist in the township, fighting for televised board meetings. Melise, a former Clinton Township police officer, said a lot has changed in his decades of township residence. And in an interesting election year, one candidate said it’s time to look in another direction.

“I think it’s time for a new perspective in the township — a youthful perspective,” said Keys, who was 23 years old during the August primary.

When speaking of goals, Pearl discussed expansion of business and the success of areas such as The Mall at Partridge Creek. But he was blunt about infrastructure: “Our local roads stink.”

Keys and West advocated for beautifying neighborhoods and improving safety, while Kirk and Zontini focused on business growth.

“Businesses pay jobs, businesses pay taxes,” Zontini said.

Discussing the third question relating to the role of a trustee, a majority said trustees help keep others on the board in tune with the rest of the community. Working together, as a team, improves relations from top to bottom.

“We become the voice of Clinton Township,” Zontini said. “(Residents) want to trust us.”

The panel was split when a question was asked of whether part-time positions, such as trustee, deserved benefits.

West and Zontini said that the role of a trustee takes time and effort, with West saying she has put in 40-hour weeks doing research and attending meetings. Thus, they advocated for miscellaneous benefits if the work is ample.

The rest of the panel was on the other side of the fence. Pearl said he voted to reduce benefits in the past and wouldn’t mind reducing them to zero. Melise said a trustee’s role is different than that of a public works employee.

“I’m not running (for trustee) for the money,” Melise said.

The final question revolved around the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA, and whether voters should support or reject the public transit proposal this November.

Keys said that though he supports the RTA’s venture, he believes not enough members of the community are privy to the details surrounding the proposed project. Zontini agreed, adding that Detroit didn’t build the M-1 Rail the way it could have.

Kirk said she understands the need for varied forms of transportation, but she would rather focus financial capital on greater areas of need. West, who has made housing a priority throughout her tenure, said she believes in the RTA and in public transportation.

“People need to get places, and this is one way to do it,” West said.

 

Supervisor, clerk, treasurer

candidates take the mic

After an hour of questions and answers to and from trustees, others took the stage: current Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon and his Democratic challenger, Trustee Dean Reynolds; treasurer candidates Republican Phil Rode and current trustee Democrat Paul Gieleghem; and current Republican Clerk Kim Meltzer and her Democratic challenger George Sobah.

(Editor’s note: Reynolds was arrested by the FBI Oct. 13 for his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal, a little more than a week following the forum. Current board members signed a letter that was released Oct. 14 asking Reynolds to “remove yourself from participation in all Township functions and decision making during the investigation on your federal bribery charges.”)

The first question revolved around Clinton Township services. Just about everyone stressed the importance of public safety and the daily jobs done by township police officers and firefighters. Rode said that a community that is unsafe will affect everyone who inhabits it. Gieleghem expanded on that notion.

“We can’t overlook the needs of residents,” Gieleghem said, referring to an aging community and the responsibility of the township to provide good quality of life.

The second question regarding the township’s cultural diversity elicited different responses.

Cannon mentioned Clinton Township being recognized as the first “Welcoming Township” in the nation, as well as the success of the longtime Yasu Sister City exchange program. Meltzer said five languages are spoken in her office, while Reynolds teaches English as a second language in his daily career.

“They’re all people; everyone is the same,” Reynolds said. “They’re all Americans.”

On the topic of voting accessibility, Sobah stressed reaching out to local high schools and encouraging 12th-grade students to begin the registration process. He and Reynolds also advocated for any-reason absentee voting.

Meltzer said knocking on doors and always having voter information available when in public has been successful, while Gieleghem pointed to apathy as a voting deterrent.

“(There’s a) concerted effort from Lansing to erode voter rights,” Gieleghem said.

In regard to business development progress, Cannon said the township is almost fully developed in terms of infrastructure. He said fixed developments become more positive in the community when they “live” in cohesion with ecology. Reynolds said the southern portion of the township needs further redevelopment, which could be aided by ordinances.

On the topic of no recreation centers existing in Clinton Township, Reynolds — chairman of the Clinton Township Recreation Committee — said he has advocated for items like splash pads, but discussion never led anywhere.

“I think it’s time to ask the residents again: Do you want a rec center?” Reynolds said.

Cannon said the Tomlinson Arboretum and Steiner Community Building provide aspects related to quality of life, and he mentioned how the Parks and Recreation Department employs younger people in the summertime.

Sobah reiterated his stance on working with local schools, while Meltzer stated that community parks — like on Quinn Road — can reduce program costs while still offering cultural development for local residents.

The final question was for the treasurer candidates, and it revolved around bringing additional revenue into the township.

Gieleghem said safe-guarding funds, along with a prioritization of government monies, offers residents help. Rode emphasized his pro-business background, saying that prudence and noticing opportunities in different pockets of the township, such as housing, industry and commercial, can elevate business practices.