Farooqi appointed to Sterling Heights Zoning Board of Appeals

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 7, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Following a previous appointee’s refusal of the seat last month, the Sterling Heights Zoning Board of Appeals now has a new appointee.

During the Aug. 5 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the council voted 4-3 to appoint Aisha Farooqi to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Mayor Michael Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski and Councilmen Michael Radtke and Henry Yanez voted yes. Councilwomen Deanna Koski, Maria Schmidt and Barbara Ziarko voted no.

Farooqi caught the City Council’s attention after an earlier nomination of resident Dennis Hansinger for the ZBA position in June. At the time, Radtke voted no on Hansinger’s nomination and explained that he wanted to see a diverse candidate chosen so that the ZBA isn’t all male and all white.

From there, the appointment process attracted council and resident debate over the role that race, gender and other identities should play in the appointment process, as well as how the city should attract a diverse applicant pool.

In a June press release, Radtke said he found a “more qualified minority female candidate, who has already spent a year serving with distinction on our Ordinance Board of Appeals II.”

The City Council ended up appointing Hansinger to the role in a 5-2 vote July 7. But soon afterward, Hansinger reportedly informed the City Council that he would be declining the appointment. When asked by the Sentry if he had any comment on his appointment, he replied by email, “Not really.”

With the seat still vacant, Yanez nominated Farooqi during the July 21 council meeting. Radtke said she’d be a wonderful addition because she is an attorney who has already been serving on the city’s Board of Ordinance Appeals. But Radtke said Farooqi would need to resign from that board because her job obligations conflicted with 3 p.m. meetings.

“She’s interested in moving up and serving,” Radtke said, “and this is an issue that she works on and she’s fascinated with.”

During Farooqi’s nomination process, some council members lamented how the appointment process had been beaten up on social media. Ziarko said the previous candidate, a volunteer, was “abused,” and it “caused him to say that, you know, he doesn’t want to volunteer for us.”

Ziarko wanted a 90-day postponement on the issue “until all of this cools down.” Meanwhile, Schmidt said she needed more time to vet a list of over three dozen candidates.

In response, advocates of Farooqi’s nomination opposed a delay. Sierawski said she supported nominating Farooqi to “get the ball rolling.”

“She’s been put through the wringer a little bit, too, with all of this, so I do appreciate her willingness to serve,” Sierawski said.

“Yes, we need a greater, larger pool of people. Right now we are starting with what we’ve got. We have a good pool. Let’s work with what we have and then continue to invite, continue to attract, continue to advertise what we have.”

The July 21 nomination vote mirrored the 4-3 split that Farooqi’s second vote — for the formal appointment — received at the Aug. 5 council meeting.

On Aug. 5, Radtke affirmed that Farooqi would be a great appointee. Ziarko said she would vote no again, not because of the applicant, but because of the process. Schmidt also said her no vote wasn’t personal, but she wanted to see a postponement and consider other candidates, including ones who applied recently. Koski said she’d vote no for similar reasons.

Taylor, who voted yes, said he took into consideration the other applicants who applied, as well as opinions from “an overwhelming amount of people” over the prior several weeks.

“We have, I think, had more than enough time on this item, and I wouldn’t want any more time on it,” Taylor said.

“I think we have a qualified candidate who’s been nominated. We’ve had two weeks to do further vetting, and I’m very satisfied with the nomination and appointment tonight.”

Farooqi’s ZBA term is set to last until June 30, 2023. After the appointment vote, she responded in an email with her thoughts.

“As a practicing attorney, and current member of the Sterling Heights Ordinance Board of Appeals II for the past year, I look forward to bringing a unique perspective to the Zoning Board of Appeals,” she said.

“I am honored and excited to serve the people of Sterling Heights.”

For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net or call (586) 446-2489.

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