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City Council candidates discuss issues at forum

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 14, 2015

 Community Media Network TV producer Tom Belian films the Candidate Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Troy Area in the studio Oct. 6.

Community Media Network TV producer Tom Belian films the Candidate Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Troy Area in the studio Oct. 6.

Photo by Terry Oparka

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The five contenders for three seats on the Troy City Council answered questions on the settlement of the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center litigation, a library millage ballot question and other issues at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Troy Area Oct. 6.

The forum was filmed at the Community Media Network TV studio and will be telecast on CMNtv. It also will be available on demand on the league’s website, www.lwvtroyarea.org, and at www.cmntv.org in coming days.

Troy City Councilmen Dave Henderson and Steve Gottlieb, along with challengers Edna Abrahim, Ethan Baker and Paul McCown are running for one of three four-year terms.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Campbell is running unopposed for a partial two-year term created when former Councilman Wade Fleming was elected to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners last November. Mayor Dane Slater is running unopposed.

The league invited only candidates running opposed to participate.

All of the candidates said they support renewal of the dedicated library millage — a renewal of a previously authorized 0.7 mills for five years — on the November ballot. They were also asked what they would do if that millage fails.

“We trimmed all the fat we could,” Gottlieb said of the city budget.

Henderson said he voted to put the library millage question on the November ballot.

“We’d find a way to keep it in the budget,” he said of the library if the proposal failed, adding that the city would likely have to cut back on roadway improvements.

McCown said he was a member of the Financial Ideas Team, a 15-member focus group made up of community members and business owners. They met as a preclude to the city’s budget process last fall, and he said they studied the proposed budget in great detail. He said there wasn’t much room to cut elsewhere if the millage doesn’t pass.

Abrahim said the library millage is the right thing to do for a sustainable way to fund the library.

“It’s part of the city’s culture and needs to be fully funded,” Baker said, noting that things should always be re-examined.

The candidates were asked their opinions on the city’s recent $3.1 million court settlement on the transit center — which doesn’t include $1.07 million the city paid to the developer last summer for appraisal of the land needed to open the transit center. The city plans to seek federal funding for the $3.1 million.

A judge signed an order Aug. 15, 2014, giving the city the title to the land and requiring the city to pay developer Grand Sakwa Properties $1.07 million, based on a land appraisal.

Grand Sakwa had donated 2.7 acres of the total 77-acre mixed-use commercial and residential property at Maple and Coolidge to the city of Troy on the condition that Troy would develop the land for use as a transportation center. The consent agreement — dated June 2, 2000 — required that the city fund the center within 10 years of the date of judgment, which the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled never happened.

Last summer, Alan Greene, attorney for Grand Sakwa, said Grand Sakwa did not believe $1.07 million to be a proper number.

The transit center grand opening was Oct. 15, 2014.

“It’s over. We put it to bed,” Gottlieb said. “We’ve done everything right. We can move forward.”

He said the money the city spent to settle the suit was earmarked for transportation.

“Contracts do matter,” Baker said. “We should have known better. The language should have been articulated. The money has been paid. We have to move forward.” He added that, hopefully, reimbursement funding from the federal government will come soon.

“Like any lawsuit, a lot of the information was only available to the litigants,” Abrahim said. “We don’t have all the information. We need to move forward to make the transit center as successful as possible.”

She added that the city should partner with the Troy Chamber of Commerce and the business community to ensure the transit center is as successful as it can be.

“We can’t make decisions based on hopes,” McCown said. “We have to be responsible with dollars spent.”

Henderson said that in past years, he voted no on transit center funding and issues because, he said, as a Realtor, he knew that a pending lawsuit, which he described as a “significant cloud,” would cause problems in taking the title to the land.

“I was also part of the solution,” he said, noting that he voted to pay the $1.07 million to the developer last year.

“We need to look at the data and make better decisions going forward,” he said.

For information on the Nov. 3 ballot, visit www.vote411.org. Candidate profiles are scheduled to run in the Oct. 22 issue of the Troy Times.

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