Council members discuss priorities for new fiscal year

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 17, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — The new fiscal year began July 1 in Madison Heights and Hazel Park, and elected officials say they’re determined to make progress despite limitations imposed by the pandemic, economic uncertainty and other challenges that have come to define 2020.

Roslyn Grafstein
Madison Heights City Council

Grafstein, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, said that environmental stewardship will continue to be a priority for her, whether it’s arranging tree plantings or finding ways to transform barren plots of land into pollinator-friendly gardens. She said a healthy environment is important for the community’s health.

However, “the pandemic has exposed the number of financially and medically vulnerable residents in our city, and we all need to pitch in to help the most susceptible in our community,” Grafstein said. “Women and children at home with an abuser have nowhere to go. The elderly or medically compromised who live alone with limited access to technology are more isolated and at risk for mental health issues. (Much of) the population who were already living paycheck to paycheck are now feeling the financial crunch of decreased or lost wages, and are relying on food banks and other charitable organizations.”

She also noted how there “are so many unknowns with school in the fall,” and families may have to make difficult decisions balancing work and educating their children at home. This could be especially tricky for parents with multiple kids or special needs children, she said.

“This is a concern for everyone, not just parents of school-age children. We don’t live in silos, so we are indirectly impacted by the circumstances of our neighbors and coworkers,” Grafstein said. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we collaborate with neighboring officials, different levels of government and the school districts.”

The mayor pro tem also said that in addition to the coronavirus, society is “on the brink of a civil rights movements,” so everyone needs to “help our residents be heard, regardless of race, gender, ability, etc,” since “so many financial and health problems that plague our residents have their roots in systematic racism and sexism that is so embedded in our culture — even those of us who want to see change inadvertently continue to perpetuate these biases and ingrained misogyny.”

Alissa Sullivan
Hazel Park City Council

Sullivan, the mayor pro tem of Hazel Park, said she is currently working with the city’s animal control officer and city attorney to rewrite the entirety of the city’s animal control ordinances.

“Our ordinances were outdated and hadn’t been really looked into for modernization in over two decades,” Sullivan said. “Sheltering best practices and humane handling have really changed drastically in just the last five years, so being able to go over our current setup and really address modern concerns using the most current information available has been an undertaking I’m so very proud to be a part of.”

She said the council continues to work on creating a walkable, bike-able Hazel Park with a vibrant downtown district. These efforts include place-making projects and beautification goals such as tree plantings, pollinator gardens, updated or relocated city planters, and Hazel Park Arts Council initiatives such as the DIA Inside|Out exhibits and additional outdoor murals. There are also multiple new housing developments coming to the city.

Sullivan said that the city’s public safety departments were offered CPR classes this year for saving household pets, donated by Save 1 CPR. In addition, the Police Department is retooling its use-of-force protocol. The officers received de-escalation training earlier in the year, and the city will also send all Police Department and Fire Department personnel to receive implicit bias training, something that Sullivan hopes will be extended to the rest of city staff.

“We grow by learning, and by learning, we grow,” Sullivan said.

Kymm Clark
Madison Heights City Council

This is Clark’s first full year on the Madison Heights City Council. She said she is dedicating it to helping those most in need.

“While we continue to work with authorities on the remediation of the Electro-Plating Services contamination site, COVID-19 gave us even more challenges, and showed us that a pandemic can shine a bright light on the disparities that plague our community, and that we are just a pandemic away from losing everything we worked so hard to achieve,” Clark said. “So, for the remainder of the year I would like to focus my efforts on closing those disparity gaps.”

A group Clark helped co-found, the #oneatatime Community Response Team, began as a group focused on helping the city’s homeless population, but increased in scope to facilitate the Madison Heights Emergency Food Pantry at Huffman Park when they first started getting off the ground. The group is now planning to add a “closet” component to collect and distribute clothing for those in need.

Clark said that the Black Lives Matter movement inspired her to request that the city create a new board called the Human Rights and Equity Commission, which will be tasked with combing through the city charter and identifying any ordinances and practices that create hurdles for residents based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, financial class or other factors.

“We absolutely should have a corner of government dedicated to ensuring equality for all of our neighbors,” Clark said.

She noted that it could be approved by the City Council by August.

Clark also wants to get as many voters to participate in upcoming elections as possible, in a campaign she is promoting with the hashtag, #DontForgetToVote. She said the majority of her efforts here will be focused on young voters, “who are just now waking up to the significance of their contribution to the social contract,” Clark said. “Government should be representative of the greater communities’ needs.”

She also noted the city’s blossoming art scene, and said that she encourages neighbors to adopt the hashtag #ArtWalk to identify the artistic monuments popping up throughout the city, so that they can be easily mapped for residents to enjoy.

David Soltis
Madison Heights City Council

Soltis said that public health is his top priority and main focus for the foreseeable future.

“Especially the city’s seniors and aging population,” Soltis said. “They have been hit the hardest during the pandemic — and this pandemic is not going away anytime soon.”

He applauded the efforts of the staff at the Madison Heights Active Adult Center, including its coordinator Jennifer Cowan, for its ongoing services, including curbside food pickups and drop-offs, and curbside medical equipment loans for vulnerable homebound seniors. He wants to spend more time with the seniors himself, including visits to the Solberg Tower apartments to walk with them, hearing about their concerns while getting in some exercise.

Soltis also said that more needs to be done for seniors in nursing homes in Madison Heights. He said that the city’s Fire Department has done a good job conducting COVID-19 testing there.

Mike McFall
Hazel Park City Council

McFall said that keeping residents safe is his No. 1 priority, but helping businesses continue to reopen and rebuild after the shutdown is also important.

“These businesses employ our neighbors and are vital to our community. That’s why it’s so important that the Main Street Hazel Park initiative was able to partner with Main Street Oakland County for an online crowdfunding campaign. As a result, we were able to raise over $20,000 and start the Hazel Park Main Street Relief Fund,” McFall said. “Thanks to the generosity of our residents and businesses like New Standard Cannabis and Breeze Provisioning Center, we were able to raise more than any other Oakland County Main Street member community. We have already started distributing the much-needed relief to our struggling businesses.”

He said it’s essential that the city continues to move quickly in accommodating the new needs of businesses trying to operate during the pandemic.

“This means testing tools and outdoor patios are becoming the new norm for our service industry-based businesses. This is why I’ve also been working with City Hall and county officials to help coordinate the distribution of the COVID-19 ‘ReOpen Kits.’ These kits for small business owners and nonprofits are provided free of charge,” McFall said. “This gives them the tools and materials they need to reopen safely.”

Mark Bliss
Madison Heights City Council

Bliss said that the pandemic presented a “complete paradigm shift” in how the city goes about protecting and supporting its residents.

“As such, priority No. 1 is a focus on public safety and the wellness of our community,” he said. “Adding modern equipment and technology is important here. We’ve already bought devices to help us sanitize sites quickly, and are planning on adding police body cameras later this year, but I would also like (the Information Technology Advisory Committee) and our staff to collaborate on finding other new technology that will make a positive impact on our citizens.”

He also said that despite current events, the city should not return to the days of “ignoring investments that enhance the quality of life for our residents.” He said that the city must continue to work on programming and park features designed for everyone, “from toddlers to seniors,” and that while budget restrictions will be tough, creative thinking by the citizen boards will lead to solutions.

“Finally, economic development has to be at the forefront of everything we do,” Bliss said. “Supporting our existing businesses, and finding new ones in industries that have thrived despite the pandemic, is critical to the future of our city. Without the investment and jobs that development brings, nothing else is possible. This is especially true of our (Downtown Development Authority), which has taken positive steps in recent years, and must continue to thrive despite the changes this pandemic has brought.”

Robert Corbett
Madison Heights City Council

Corbett said that current events have forced him and the rest of council to rethink a number of their personal priorities for the coming years.

“The city and the council in particular need to exhibit fiscal restraint in spending, given the uncertainty regarding employment levels in the tri-county area, the security of the real estate market, and the uncertainty in federal and state grants and assistance to Madison Heights,” he said. “I think most importantly, the council needs to strategically pivot from solely working to attract small business investments to larger redevelopments in the manufacturing, storage and technology business areas.”

He said that “the small business person … is important to defining a community and perfecting the economic base,” but multimillion-dollar developments in vacant industrial locations could go a long way toward bolstering the city’s finances, while also helping the city to initiate infrastructure upgrades that are friendly to smaller businesses.

“Easy tap-in electrical service and state-of-the-art high-speed internet fiber lines are just two examples of the infrastructure investments that progressive communities are making in the 21st century,” Corbett said.

He also said the city should spare no effort in continuing to seek private grants and government grants. He pointed to the success of the Neighborhood Investment program through the state of Michigan that the city is promoting. Madison Heights is seeking out homes in need of structural repairs and facelifts, and working with homeowners to obtain no-cost grants to repair them.

“Porches are being built and roofs replaced on homes where the owners were lower income and had no immediate prospects of having the work done,” Corbett said. “Working with the city, homeowners can stay in their home, and neighborhoods are given a financial shot in the arm.”

Andy LeCureaux
Hazel Park City Council

LeCureaux said many good things are happening in Hazel Park right now, from the burgeoning restaurant scene and arts culture, to new home and business construction and the cannabis industry, as well as roads and freeway construction.

“I know construction in the short run is a major inconvenience, but in the long run it’s proven that road construction drives other investments in the local economy,” LeCureaux said.

While the city has had to cancel many events this year due to COVID-19, he said he hopes to see traditions like the Memorial Weekend festivities and Hazel Park Art Fair resume next year.

“Not sure who originally said this, but it’s a curse to live in interesting times,” LeCureaux said. “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. So Hazel Park will not just survive, but we will thrive!”

He said he has observed more people bicycling during the pandemic, and being more active outdoors in general.

“This is a trend I would like to see continue,” LeCureaux said. “The new park build last year at Scout-McPherson Park and the exercise equipment at Green Acres Park support this trend, and a playground/skateboard park has been discussed since then as an attraction for older kids.

“Continuing the hard work of the past, with a positive eye towards the future to create a sustainable future, is my goal,” he concluded.