Candidates for mayor, clerk, council discuss goals for Southfield

By: Andy Kozlowski | Southfield Sun | Published September 22, 2021


SOUTHFIELD — In the general election Nov. 2, voters in the city of Southfield will decide the next mayor and clerk, and four seats on the City Council.
In a series of emails, candidates were asked to share a bit about their background and to outline their priorities if elected or reelected to office.

The candidates for the mayor of Southfield are current Mayor Kenson Siver and challenger Tawnya Morris, competing for a four-year term.

Kenson Siver
Siver, 75, has been the mayor from 2015 to present, and has lived in Southfield for 54 years. He is a retired teacher and deputy superintendent of the Southfield Public Schools. He has a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University, and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Wayne State University. Prior to becoming mayor in 2015, he had been a council member since 2001.

The mayor recounted how upon moving to Southfield at age 21, he quickly became involved in neighborhood and community affairs, starting with environmental issues, to which end he created recycling and tree planting programs. He is a founding member of the Southfield Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force and the Southfield Parks and Garden Club.

Siver, who describes himself as a “true Southfield enthusiast,” has also written three books on the history of the city and edited the 30th anniversary book on the Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force. Siver points to his 50-year association with the Southfield Public Schools, his 14 years of service on the council, and now six years as mayor as making him uniquely qualified to lead the city.

He said that his goals for the coming term include pushing for infrastructure improvements, improving place-making, overseeing the revitalization of the Northland Center property, attracting and retaining businesses, reducing blight through code enforcement, better meeting the needs of seniors, protecting the environment, and focusing on issues related to diversity and social equity. He also sees expanding housing access as another key issue.

“Southfield needs more housing — especially for seniors who wish to downsize and remain in the city. And the city must also create affordable housing to attract younger people,” Siver said.

On the Northland redevelopment, he said, “Northland’s rebirth is a private/public partnership that needs to be monitored and supported over the next few years. Further, this rebirth must include troubled properties surrounding Northland — namely the Plaza Hotel, two bank properties, and the AT&T and Reynolds buildings.”

Siver concluded that his deep knowledge of the partnership, developer and area will allow him to best monitor and assist the project, which he sees as vital to the future of the city.

Tawnya Morris
The challenger for mayor, Morris, 53, has lived in the city of Southfield for 27 years and served as a member of the City Council from 2015 to 2021. She is the president and CEO of the Abayomi Community Development Corporation, a faith-based nonprofit in northwest Detroit. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan.

Reflecting on her council service, Morris said that she led the City Council in a vote last year to amend the city charter to return primary election voting to Southfield. In 2019 she wrote a resolution to make hiring processes more inclusive, and in 2017 she wrote a resolution to help homeowners avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. She is also engaged with the Northland Center project.

“With a background in mechanical engineering, I have the technical aptitude and project and construction management experience to ensure Northland is built correctly,” Morris said.

In addition to the Northland Center, another top priority is the creation of a Utilities and Infrastructure Commission to hold companies accountable for power outages, floods, roads, sidewalks and sewer repairs. She also wants to create a service level agreement based on performance for utility companies, by which rebates and credits are tied to the number of outages.

“I will also make continued improvement on main roads, with a renewed focus on residential streets,” Morris said.

Improving the quality of life in the city of Southfield is another goal for Morris.

“I will expand relationships with developers to bring boutique food chains and fine dining establishments to Southfield,” Morris said. “I will also work to redevelop vacant and dilapidated strip malls.”

The candidates for city clerk of Southfield include the incumbent, Sherikia Hawkins, and the challenger, Wendy Webster-Jackson. They are competing for one four-year term.

Sherikia Hawkins
The current city clerk, Hawkins, 40, has lived in the city of Southfield for more than 10 years. She has a master’s degree in political science, a bachelor’s degree in communication, and a certificate of diversity and inclusion from Cornell University.

“I have over 17 years of experience in local government, including 10 years as a city clerk,” Hawkins said. “I have a passion for public service. The qualities I possess that make me an ideal candidate is my knowledge base of local government and city clerk operations. I am a transformational leader, and possess the drive to be innovative and serve the residents, business owners and stakeholders in the most professional and efficient way possible.”

She described how, during her first term as city clerk, her voter outreach and education efforts led to record turnout in multiple Southfield elections.

“There has been an increase in voter registration and voter participation. The permanent absentee list has grown exponentially. All of these items have served our community well with community engagement,” Hawkins said. “Under my leadership, many processes have been streamlined to make basic services available online, such as public participation in City Council meetings, and Freedom of Information Act requests.”

Continuing that community engagement will be a top priority for her if elected to a new term. She also wants to continue improving ease of access for residents seeking information from the city, including public records.

“The City Clerk’s Office is often referred to as the ‘Google of local government.’ It is a priority to give residents the easiest and most efficient route to their needs,” Hawkins said. “This means more online service opportunities, and continuing excellent service over the phone and over the counter for walk-up residents and community stakeholders.”

Wendy Webster-Jackson
The challenger for city clerk, Webster-Jackson, 49, has lived in Southfield for 12 years and is a podiatrist, with a doctorate in podiatric medicine from the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.

“I am an educated business owner that has managed a medical office for over 20 years,” Webster-Jackson said. “I am well-versed in contracts, compliance and deadlines. I understand integrity and honesty. I am detail-oriented, as well as a team player. I genuinely care about the residents of Southfield.”

She said her top goal is to “restore confidence in the Southfield City Clerk,” and that to run successful elections, the clerk must “ensure all transactions in City Clerk’s Office are efficient, fast and friendly.” The clerk must always maintain accurate records of all council meetings, she said, and have a fast turnaround time for any Freedom of Information Act requests.

In addition, “I would like to have strong voter registration drives, to ensure Southfield residents have a powerful voice in the county and the state,” Webster-Jackson said.

The candidates for the Southfield City Council are incumbents Lloyd Crews, Jason Hoskins, Michael “Ari” Mandelbaum and Linnie Taylor, and challengers Ryan Scott Foster, Charles Hicks, Robert Vance Patrick and Jay Reid. There are four open seats. The three highest vote-getters will receive four-year terms, while the fourth highest will receive a two-year term.

Lloyd Crews
Crews, 46, an incumbent, has lived in the city of Southfield for 12 years and is currently employed as a professor at Oakland Community College in Royal Oak and Southfield, where he teaches political science. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Clark Atlanta University, and his doctor of philosophy in educational leadership and policy studies from Wayne State University.

He said that his education has built a “firm foundation” for him as an elected official, and he noted that prior to his time as a tenured faculty member, he spent 14 years as an executive director and dean of academic and student services, where he helped students pursue their degrees.

Crews has also served on various boards, including the American Heart Association and the Boys and Girls Club of South Oakland County, as president of the Southfield Rotary Club, and more.

“These roles in leadership and service to the community make me uniquely qualified to continue my service on the Southfield City Council for another four years,” Crews said.

If reelected, he plans to implement a director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the city who would work to conduct climate studies and provide training to all employees, as well as outreach to the community to make the city even more sustainable. Another goal is implementing a policy on Community Benefits Agreements, which would ensure that new development and redevelopment will bring benefits such as job opportunities for residents, financial support for parks and recreation, and training programs for youth and adults.

And the Northland Center redevelopment is another priority.

“As the current chairperson of the Northland Steering Committee, I want to see swift and continual growth on this historic property,” Crews said. “Work has already begun, but we have a long road ahead of us.”

Ryan Scott Foster
A challenger for the City Council, Foster, 41, was born and raised in Southfield, and currently works for Vehiship Transportation Service. He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Ferris State University.

He served as a police officer for two years in the Detroit Police Department, and for six years in the Dallas Police Department. He said that he understands local government and the challenges of city politics. He also points to his time running a Little League football organization for three years, which he said helped him refine his budgeting skills and his ability to manage multiple things at once.

Infrastructure, public safety and parks are top priorities for Foster.

“In Southfield, roads are bad compared to our neighbors around us. I want to fix our streets,” he said. On public safety, Foster said, “Community policing works, and I want to make sure our police and citizens have a good relationship.” And on parks and recreation: “I want to invest and upgrade our city parks. People from cities enjoy our parks, as well as our citizens. So I want Southfield to stand out.”

Charles Hicks
Another challenger for the City Council, Hicks, 49, has lived in Southfield for 30-plus years. Currently, he serves as the director of technology, innovation and process improvement at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Prior to that, he was the director of purchasing for Wayne County. He is a 1989 graduate of Southfield High, and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in business information technology from Walsh College.

He is currently serving his third year as the president of the Southfield Public Schools Board of Education. He was first elected as a trustee to the school board in 2016.

Now he has his sights on the City Council.

“I am running because I want to foster collaboration with all elected officials for the benefit of Southfield,” Hicks said, adding that when he served as the director of purchasing for Wayne County, he managed $1.5 billion in annual spending. “I have extensive experience in contract negotiation, procurement, process improvement and project management.”

He said that the National Association of Counties recognized him for his innovative efforts, and that his government work has given him a foundation on how to improve government processes and how to do more with less.

Hicks said that his top goals are to support and improve public safety efforts, to enhance and add city services, to attract and retain homeowners, to attract and retain businesses, and to address power outages and road issues.

“I have five children in my home that I hope will raise families here. I also have 5,000 children in our school system that I want to ensure have what I got from Southfield,” Hicks said. “I am also running because I want to bring additional business to our city. Southfield is the center of it all. I want to ensure we grow and thrive, not just survive. I am running because I believe I am a good candidate for Southfield.”

Jason Hoskins
Hoskins, 37, an incumbent, has lived in the city of Southfield for seven years. He works as a legislative director for state Sen. Jeremy Moss. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Eastern Michigan University, a master’s degree in public administration from Eastern Michigan University, and a juris doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“I believe my background serving in state government as legislative director to two Southfield legislators — State Sen. Jeremy Moss and former State Rep. Rudy Hobbs — coupled with my education make me uniquely qualified for this position,” Hoskins said. “I’m currently the youngest person on council, and I ran for council in 2019 because I wanted to bring more younger voices to the table, and to attract and retain people in our city.

“I think we’ve really started laying the groundwork for that, particularly with the redevelopment of the Northland Mall,” he added. “This project will be transformational and attract a lot of new residents to our community.”

Hoskins said that serving on both the council and working in the state Legislature has allowed him to better advocate for Southfield in Lansing. 
“I’ve worked with our state legislators on legislation that will create more tools for affordable housing in Southfield, as well as make sure Southfield priorities are added to that state budget,” Hoskins said.

If reelected, he plans to continue developing a downtown area that he hopes will rival many suburban cities in the region.

“We are currently in the process of developing that downtown,” Hoskins said. “I’ve worked hard with the developer of that site to get a development that will attract people to the city.”

He also wants to craft a community benefits ordinance that requires developers to give some sort of benefit to the community when they receive a tax benefit. To this end, Hoskins has been working with members of the community and a nonprofit specializing in the matter to shape the policy.

He also wants to make it more practical for people to live in Southfield.

“We need to create more housing options, while also giving tools to those who may want to stay in their homes and need to retrofit it,” Hoskins said. “I’ve been working with state legislators to create tools, primarily in the form of tax incentives, to allow people to build and buy homes, as well as to retrofit their homes, so that seniors, for example, may age in place.”

Michael “Ari” Mandelbaum
Mandelbaum, 39, an incumbent, has lived in Southfield for 26 years, and in Oak Park for 13 years prior. He works as a compliance analyst for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where he has been employed for 16 years. He has a master of business administration degree from Wayne State University and a project management certificate from Lawrence Technological University.

In his six years on the Southfield City Council, he has served two terms as president pro tem. He said that he joined the council in 2015 after six years serving on Southfield’s Total Living Commission, where he worked to improve the quality of life for residents. In addition to the council, Mandelbaum currently serves as the chairman of boards and commissions, and as a member of the Finance Committee, the Northland Redevelopment Committee, and as the council representative on the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Commission.

He is also a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force, and in 2014 he was named an Oakland County “Elite 40 Under 40” by then-County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. He was nominated in 2016 for the “Igniting the Flame” Award by American City and County Magazine as an up-and-coming leader in the public sector.

Mandelbaum said he wants to continue strengthening the local economy through adaptive reuse and redevelopment of buildings to meet the city’s growing needs. This includes overseeing the redevelopment of Northland Center, as well as adding more jobs for residents, and adding more small and minority-owned businesses throughout the city.

Mandelbaum said that making the city more “responsive” is another priority. To accomplish this, he wants to implement more training for all city employees, including police and fire, on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. He also wants the city to continue focusing on road and sewer infrastructure repair, and to be transparent in government spending, as well as seeking resident input when making decisions. Providing first responders with new training and equipment is another goal.

And Mandelbaum also wants to see more “family-friendly programming for young and old,” including more opportunities for youth outdoor recreation, such as basketball courts and upgrades to park equipment. He said enhanced pedestrian safety amenities, especially around neighborhood schools and parks, is another priority, as is working on AARP certification for the city, and updating zoning laws to better reflect the habits of modern society.

Robert Vance Patrick
Patrick, 58, is a challenger for the City Council. He is a lifelong resident of Southfield, and currently works as a general contractor for commercial and residential renovations. He is a graduate of Southfield High School with two associate’s degrees from Oakland Community College, and a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University.

While he is new to politics, he is no stranger to service, having been president of the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium and serving on the board of the Belle Isle Conservancy. He is the current president of his homeowners association, a role in which he feels that he has made his neighborhood a cleaner, safer and better place to live.

“I want to expand my hard work to all of Southfield,” Patrick said.

He said that, if elected, he wants to focus on the four P’s: Parks, Police, Potholes and People. He said he learned a great deal taking a leadership role restoring and reopening the Belle Isle Aquarium and that he wants to apply those lessons to governing the city.

“I will give a voice to common sense spending while efficiently using the resources we have on hand,” Patrick said. “Police are fundamental to a safe, clean and appealing community. I will work to ensure they have the tools to keep our city and families safe. I want to make sure our department works with the community to build strong relations and trust. Our city needs to make sure our roads are drivable, open to use and free of obstructions. The roads our city does manage should be the reason people move to our city and stay here. I’ll use my over 20 years of construction experience to ensure it is that way.”

Jay Reid
Reid, 25, is another challenger to the City Council. He has lived in Southfield since he was 2, and has been employed with the city of Southfield for seven years, in which time he has held various positions operating city business and assisting residents. He is a graduate of Southfield High School who majored in public administration, political science, at the University of Michigan.

“I have served for approximately seven years behind the scenes in municipal government since graduating high school and throughout my tenure in college. I have seen how different processes work to actually make plans achievable and successful, as well as keeping a good communication base with residents and patrons,” Reid said. “From working at the Southfield Public Library, to elections and in administration, I hold the communication skill set to provide residents with a bit of knowledge to combat innocent ignorance, as well as to listen and hear a different perspective that is being proposed.”

His top goals include improving unity in the community by building a stronger connection between the schools, City Hall and the library; helping seniors by holding landlords responsible for mismanaged apartments and promoting a senior center with more senior activities during the day; and promoting more family-friendly destinations and programs, including mentoring programs that help prepare today’s youth for the working world.

“I want to see our love for the city of Southfield and its people be maintained,” Reid said.

Linnie Taylor
Taylor, an incumbent, has lived in the city of Southfield for more than 30 years, and is currently the corporate payroll manager at ThyssenKrupp Materials NA. She holds a master’s degree in human resources management. She has also served on the city’s Planning Commission and Library Board.

She said that she continues to be an advocate for greater transparency in local government, and she is committed to engaging all stakeholders — residents, businesses and civic groups alike. She wants commonsense government policies and legislation, which she said includes supporting equity, inclusion and sensitivity training for police officers, firefighters and paramedics. She also supports the use of innovative technology and multimedia concepts to help connect residents, and to promote the community and build its reputation.

“I’m running for reelection to make Southfield a more transparent and sustainable city by televising as many meetings as possible, working with residents and local businesses (on policies) that work for everyone, and to invest in our city services like fire, police and EMT,” Taylor said.

Treasurer Irv Lowenberg
Lowenberg is running unopposed for a four-year term and did not respond by press time.