Mayor Pro Tem Ethan Baker, left, and Councilman Dave Henderson answer questions posed by moderator Karen Fabian at a League of Women Voters Troy Area forum filmed at CMN Cable TV Studios Oct. 3.

Mayor Pro Tem Ethan Baker, left, and Councilman Dave Henderson answer questions posed by moderator Karen Fabian at a League of Women Voters Troy Area forum filmed at CMN Cable TV Studios Oct. 3.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Candidates for Troy mayor, council square off

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 9, 2019

 The Troy City Council candidates — from the left, Councilwoman Edna Abrahim, Daniel Agauas, Olimpiu Ollie Apahidean, Theresa Brooks, Ann Erickson Gault and Sunil Sivaraman — respond to questions submitted by the audience and asked by moderator Karen Fabian.

The Troy City Council candidates — from the left, Councilwoman Edna Abrahim, Daniel Agauas, Olimpiu Ollie Apahidean, Theresa Brooks, Ann Erickson Gault and Sunil Sivaraman — respond to questions submitted by the audience and asked by moderator Karen Fabian.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Advertisement

TROY — Library funding, ethics, transparency, the Troy Civic Center and development in Troy emerged as key issues at a forum for those who could hold seats on the Troy City Council.

The League of Women Voters Troy Area hosted a candidate forum for Troy mayor and City Council candidates Oct. 3 at CMN Cable TV Studios.

Over 70 people attended to watch the candidates answer questions.

The candidates for mayor are current Councilman Ethan Baker, who is the mayor pro tem, and Councilman Dave Henderson.

There are three council seats open, and six candidates are running — current Councilwoman Edna Abrahim, as well as Daniel Agauas, Olimpiu Ollie Apahidean, Theresa Brooks, Ann Erickson Gault and Sunil Sivaraman.

When asked about a voter-approved library millage that expires in 2021, all of the council candidates said the council should talk with residents to see what they want and how much they would be willing to pay to fund the library — and if they are willing to pay.

The current library levy is 0.7 mill, which raises about $3 million per year.

Addressing  a code of ethics for the council and city management, Apahidean, an engineer who serves on the Planning Commission, said the code of ethics should have more teeth.

As part of a recent forensic audit, Plante Moran staff interviewed 16 city employees, mostly department  heads. They looked into petty cash transactions, disbursements and credit cards that former Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick used.

The forensic audit revealed a management culture, or “tone at the top,” that fostered a sense of entitlement and discouraged city employees from reporting potential violations.

Kischnick was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to bribery in August 2018.

Brooks, a physician, said that if someone violates the set standards there should be consequences, which would be needed to maintain a safe working environment for city employees.

Erickson Gault, an attorney, said she fought to have the council release the “Lange report.” The city retained attorney Craig Lange to look into Kischnick’s actions after city employees, under whistleblower provisions, raised concerns in 2016. “Communication is the key to transparency — the council listening to the people,” she said.

Sivaraman, an engineer who serves on the Financial Ideas Team, advocated for an open ledger available online for city expenses.

“We need to treat the forensic audit with a lot of respect and take it seriously,” said Abrahim. “We need to understand what council did or did not do.”

Agauas, a forensic auditor who sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals, said that with his accounting background he believes the council and city management should follow through with the 17 specific recommendations in the Plante Moran report.

On the question of developing the Troy Civic Center, Apahidean said the 100-acre Civic Center site is one of the most valuable properties in the state of Michigan. He said the council needs to ask residents what they want to do with the site.

“We put the cart before the horse. Parts of the property are underutilized,” Apahidean said.

“I don’t want privatization of city property,” Sivaraman said.

“The citizenry made clear — no community development,” Erickson Gault said. “The plan was dead on arrival.”

Erickson Gault said that to move forward and perhaps develop more recreational opportunities at the Civic Center, the community has to be involved.

“The Civic Center area belongs to the city and people of Troy,” Brooks said. “Any major development deserves the vote of the city of Troy.”

Abrahim said that city leaders didn’t engage the community before the concept plan was drawn up and that community engagement sessions are needed to determine how to move forward.

“We need to understand the full gamut of options and what citizens want,”  Abrahim said.

“Public land should be used for public use,” said Agauas. “We assumed we knew what the community wanted. The bottom line is, it has to be used for the public.”

All of the candidates said they believe the city’s master plan should be reevaluated to ensure that any new development is in harmony with the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

Mayoral candidates weigh in
On developing the Civic Center property, Baker, an attorney, said he thinks the majority of residents want it to remain mostly park-like.

“We need to enhance it, make it a better place, a community gathering center,” he said.

Henderson, a Realtor, said he would keep pushing for a vote of the people to determine what, if anything, to do with the Civic Center and/or to initiate resident surveys.

When asked how they would promote transparency in government, Henderson said he is not an advocate for closed sessions unless they involve contract or labor issues.

“We need to discuss critical issues in front of the people,” he said.

Baker said transparency is the key to success.

“It’s one thing to talk. It’s another to vote. You can’t be partially transparent,” he said.

Addressing the culture of complicity mentioned in the Plante Moran audit, Henderson said the report didn’t share details of the employee interviews, only “nuggets of information and wrote an opinion piece. Show me the work.”

Baker said the Plante Moran audit provided an important teachable moment.

“When  the check engine light in a car goes on, you don’t keep driving,” Baker said.

Regarding the library, Henderson said he is “in favor of the status quo. Let the people decide,” adding that Troy is not the only library that does not operate seven days a week.

“The 2021 millage could be different,” Baker said, referring to the amount. “The millage doesn’t (adequately) fund the library. I’m all for listening to the people. Opening it for seven days would be great. It’s what people want.”

Regarding development, Henderson said that while the city needs solid development, “We have to figure out a way to predict what will be approved and what neighbors will accept.”

“Residents aren’t being heard,” Baker said. “They are sick of over-developing in Troy. The outdated master plan was in place in a different economy.”

Longtime resident Avis Landmesser, who speaks frequently at Planning Commission and City Council meetings on rezoning issues, said she was very encouraged by the conversation.

“It’s a great city. I want to keep it a great city,” she said.

Advertisement