City officials reflect on 2022, look to the year ahead

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published January 6, 2023

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — With the new year underway, officials in Hazel Park and Madison Heights are taking one last look back at 2022. In a series of emails, they shared their thoughts on the year that was — as well as what’s next.

Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, described 2022 as a “historically unique” year for his city. The passing of council members Bob Gettings in November 2021 and Robert Corbett in March 2022 were followed by the appointment of Quinn Wright and Toya Aaron, respectively, who followed the appointment of Sean Fleming after Kymm Clark resigned in the fall of 2021. As a result, for most of 2022, a majority of the council had less than one term of council experience.

“To my knowledge, that’s the first time that had happened in decades,” Bliss said. “I’m proud of how we kept rolling, though.”

He said the council veterans worked hard to help the new members transition to their roles. Together, the new team launched the largest capital improvement project in the history of the city — an ongoing effort that will include the renovation of City Hall and the Madison Heights Public Library at Civic Center Plaza, the construction of a new Active Adult Center between the two buildings, and renovations at Fire Station 2. It took four years of planning before shovels finally hit the soil.

“So much effort from so many people was put in to make this project a successful one for our residents,” Bliss said, noting that many of the library improvements were from talks he and Corbett had with the Library Board years ago. “Seeing that vision finally brought to life has been incredible.”

The mayor pro tem praised the work of the city’s boards and commissions, including the Library Board leading the library renovations, the Planning Commission updating zoning ordinances, the Information Technology Advisory Committee improving cybersecurity, and the Arts Board organizing another Pumpkin Walk and Trail Tunes, as well a new mural at Huffman Park, and a new initiative to bring community art into the newly renovated City Hall.

As for 2023, Bliss anticipates a year of change. In addition to the capital improvement project at Civic Center Plaza and Fire Station 2, there will also be major renovations at Ambassador Park in partnership with Oakland County, and the long-awaited return of the Memorial Day Parade.

Fleming, one of the newer council members in Madison Heights, continues to work with a Historical Commission subcommittee to digitize the city’s historical records. He also worked with the Crime Commission to organize an event where Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel spoke about scams targeting seniors, and he said there are plans to invite her back this year. He also brought the resolution to council to support the return of the Memorial Day Parade this spring.

“As a veteran, it was important to me to make sure we are able to honor our local veterans and Gold Star families,” Fleming said.

Luke Londo, a member of the Hazel Park City Council, said 2022 was a great year for his city.

“We were able to better address our long-term pension obligations, successfully negotiate fair contracts with multiple city departments and unions, and saw many new businesses plant their flag in our city,” Londo said. “I also set a goal of passing a ban on conversion therapy, decriminalizing entheogenic plants, and addressing the technology challenges at the city — all of which we’ve been able to accomplish.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t complete our road diet, but I’m confident we’ll be able to address it by this summer,” he said. “(2022) felt like the year we were able to re-emerge from COVID-19 into our new reality. While it was a challenging transition, it was one we weathered successfully.”

But there will be challenges ahead, he cautioned.

“The housing market is undoubtedly going to cool with interest rates as high as they are, which is going to make attracting new residents challenging,” Londo said. “However, with the multitude of new businesses, especially along John R, we’re well positioned to at least bring in new visitors.”

Wright, on the Madison Heights City Council, said he looks forward to the completion of the capital improvement projects at Civic Center Plaza, Fire Station 2 and Ambassador Park. He said he’s happy the Police Department was accredited, and that plans are being made for a new home improvement program for Madison Heights residents.

“2023 is going to be transformative for the city because of all the work that we started in 2022,” Wright said. “It’s going to be great.”

David Soltis, one of the veteran members of the Madison Heights City Council, said that he will continue to use his platform to advocate for children and seniors. He said this will include pushing for improvements to Michigan’s Child Protective Services. He is also planning a presentation to the City Council about child abuse and neglect.

“We must hold our Lansing legislators responsible and accountable to make CPS right,” Soltis said. “(The program) has been systematically inept for our children in need.”

Emily Rohrbach, with the Madison Heights City Council, described 2022 as a year of transitions where major projects got underway. She also applauded the city’s environmental efforts.

“I’m extremely proud of the work the city continues to do to make our city greener,” she said. “Hundreds of trees have been planted over the past year, and we’re seeing these trees take root and flourish all across our city.”

She said she’s excited to see the updated city facilities in 2023, and that she has faith the city’s staff will make the most of the new spaces.

“They are relentless about identifying and going after grant funding to supplement our budget so that the people of this community have access to trees, parks and welcoming community spaces,” Rohrbach said. “That’s the kind of thing that will help the city of Madison Heights thrive for generations to come.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said she looks forward to the completion of renovations at Civic Center Plaza and Fire Station 2. She and Bliss have also been working with the Planning Commission to update ordinances that will make the city more inviting for businesses, and she has been working to bring more visibility to the Downtown Development Authority.

“(In 2022), after a hiatus, we brought back the John R (Road) holiday decorations, and extended them along 11 Mile (Road). Staff and I have been working with the owner of the vacant land at 11 Mile and John R as they steadily move forward with approvals for the mixed-use building they intend to begin building in 2023,” Grafstein said.

Multicultural events have been another focus for the mayor. In 2022, she was invited to spring celebrations at both the Islamic Community Center and the Chinese Community Center, and during the summer she welcomed guests at the annual Vietnamese Picnic, hosted by the Vietnamese American Association of Michigan, and the second Juneteenth event, put on by Madison Heights Citizens United. More recently, she spoke at the Mexican Consulate in recognition of the bicentennial of U.S.-Mexico diplomatic relations.

“My biggest challenge was the loss of Bob Corbett. I miss his wisdom and experience,” Grafstein said. “When I first came onto council five years ago, I had many ideas of what I thought the city should do, but quickly found out that there were legitimate legal reasons that prohibited their implementation. At the time, I was one new council person, with six veteran council members I could reach out to for advice. Now, we have three council members just finishing their first year, and only two members who are in their third term. It’s a large learning curve, and I continue to encourage the new members to reach out to those senior members who have been on council for almost a decade.”

She said the city’s No. 1 focus in 2023 will continue to be public safety, which will include funding emergency service personnel and equipment. However, inflation will be challenging, she said, and the city will need to support its smaller businesses to help them weather the downturn. She also wants to see continued efforts to restore the city’s tree canopy, and to invest in the parks. Talking to investors about purchasing and developing underutilized private properties is another goal.

Grafstein also noted the increasing rate of mental health issues among youths.

“Our youth are in even more desperate need of help from mental health professionals. I don’t know what can be done at the local level, but the other levels of government need to step in and fix this issue, as it is only getting worse,” Grafstein said.

For Andy LeCureaux, a member of the Hazel Park City Council, one of his favorite moments in 2022 was the naming of a new street in the Park 54 development after Jeffrey Keeton, a long-serving councilman who twice served as mayor. But the year was also marked by ongoing challenges, including construction on Interstate 75, which has caused many motorists to seek shortcuts along John R to avoid the delay.

“Maybe they will stop and visit the new eateries on the south end of John R,” he said. “Dee’s Quick Bites, Hazel Perk and the newly renovated Eastern Palace (Club) and Smoked Lotus BBQ bring new food options for us to enjoy in Hazel Park.”

LeCureaux said he hopes the road construction will conclude in 2023, and he is also interested to see how the city’s cannabis industry continues to develop.

“The residents of Hazel Park do need to remember that the proceeds from the cannabis industry taxes will be used in Hazel Park to cover expenses of retiree pensions and healthcare,” LeCureaux said.

For Mike McFall, 2022 was his last full year on the Hazel Park City Council. Last year, he was the city’s mayor pro tem, and now, he is now heading to Lansing to represent the 8th District in the Michigan House of Representatives. The newly redrawn district covers the city of Hazel Park, most of Madison Heights and one Ferndale precinct, as well as the city of Highland Park and part of Detroit.

“I believe 2022, overall, was a good year for the city,” McFall said. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we’re seeing a renewed interest from business owners looking to locate in our community. We definitely faced hurdles, as we always have, but Hazel Park is very resourceful.

“I think the state is headed in the right direction as we go into 2023,” he said. “With the change in leadership in the Legislature, we finally have an opportunity to pass people-centered legislation — from expanding mental health care, to creating attainable housing opportunities. I’m looking forward to getting to Lansing, and getting to work for the people of this district.”