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 Grosse Pointe City candidates participate in a League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe forum Oct. 22 at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church in the City. The candidates, from left, are Mayor Christopher Boettcher; City Councilman Donald Parthum Jr.; City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak, who is running for mayor; City Councilman John Stempfle; and council challengers Matthew Boddy, David Fries and Terence Thomas.

Grosse Pointe City candidates participate in a League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe forum Oct. 22 at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church in the City. The candidates, from left, are Mayor Christopher Boettcher; City Councilman Donald Parthum Jr.; City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak, who is running for mayor; City Councilman John Stempfle; and council challengers Matthew Boddy, David Fries and Terence Thomas.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran


Grosse Pointe City Council, mayoral candidates discuss issues at forum

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 29, 2019

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — Grosse Pointe City voters will have some big decisions to make when they cast their ballots this year.

The mayoral and City Council races are both contested this year, and with City Councilman Andrew Turnbull not running for reelection, there will be at least one new person sitting at the table when the council holds its next regular meeting Nov. 18.

The League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe gave voters a chance to learn more about the candidates during a forum Oct. 22 at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church in the City.

Mayor Christopher Boettcher faces a challenger in City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak, who’s running against him for mayor. Incumbent City Councilmen Donald Parthum Jr. and John Stempfle are running for one of three available council seats in a race that also includes challengers Matthew Boddy, David Fries and Terence Thomas. All of the candidates took part in the forum, which League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe officials estimate drew about 70 spectators.

As to reinvigorating the Village, Stempfle, Boettcher and Parthum said they feel that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Main Street program — which the City recently started to work with — could be a boon to business. Boddy said a discussion with landlords about rental costs and opportunities might be in order, and local residents need to commit to shopping there to maintain a vibrant retail district.

“The problem with the Village is not a market problem — it’s a marketing problem,” said Tomkowiak, who acknowledged that the City “needs to do more,” but landlords also need to work together.

Fries said he’s a “pro-business candidate” who feels the City shouldn’t be charging the businesses for sign reviews, which he said used to be free.

“I don’t think the businesses get enough respect,” Fries said.

Thomas said the City needs to hire a professional now to market the Village. He said they must work with Grosse Pointe Park and Farms on marketing Kercheval Avenue, as well as the Mack Avenue corridor, to see what can be done immediately to improve the business climate.

“I don’t think we have enough time to wait (for Main Street),” Thomas said.

Council candidates were asked what operations, practices and priorities should be changed or improved. Boddy said all meetings should be livestreamed and recorded — something he said could be done inexpensively with an iPhone — and the budget process needs more resident and employee engagement. Fries said increasing foot traffic in the Village, such as with condominiums and development of the vacant property owned by Sunrise, are important for him, as are lowering fees and taxes and reducing red tape. Thomas also called for development of the Sunrise property — an issue the council has been struggling with for years because the owner has declined to sell it or develop it. Thomas also said that better public engagement, possibly through town hall meetings, is needed.

“The council needs to take a more active role in working with our stakeholders,” Thomas said.

Stempfle and Parthum both agreed that better communication is needed, and they hope a new, more user-friendly City website — which was being developed at press time — was one step in that process.

“One thing I think we could do a better job with is communication,” Parthum said.

All of the candidates said they supported the school millages. All agreed that a new Department of Public Works was necessary as well, despite the cost.

When asked about an issue the mayoral candidates disagreed on, Boettcher said he and Tomkowiak were at odds about a proposal that would have moved the City’s Department of Public Works to an available Ascension St. John Hospital warehouse on Detroit’s east side. Boettcher favored keeping the DPW in the City. A new DPW is currently under construction on the existing site.

“I believe we’re where we need to be,” said Boettcher, who said that, to him, “something just didn’t feel right” about moving to Detroit.

Tomkowiak said the move to Detroit would have saved the City money — something with which Boettcher disagreed — and would have resulted in the DPW being relocated to “an appropriate building in a commercial district,” rather than in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

“We’re going to have to live with that (decision) for a long time,” Tomkowiak said.

When asked about opportunities for additional collaborations with fellow Grosse Pointes, Fries noted that the City and Grosse Pointe Park already share a public safety director. Thomas said they should have a joint marketing plan with the Farms and Park to attract more people to businesses in those communities.

“I still think the bubble we live in is too much of a secret,” Thomas said.

Boettcher said the mayors and city managers of the Pointes meet regularly and routinely come up with ways that they can share equipment, staff and the like. Besides a public safety director, Parthum said the City shares its building inspector with the Farms, uses the Park’s public safety dispatch center, and purchases equipment with its neighbors when possible to take advantage of economies of scale. Tomkowiak added that the City shares its forester with the Park, and said she’d like to see more collaboration on economic development for the region, citing a recent agreement for Mack Avenue with the Park, Farms and Detroit as one example.

“I, too, am in favor of collaborating, as long as we maintain our services,” Stempfle said.

Boddy suggested making joint purchases with larger nearby communities to take even greater advantage of economies of scale, but cautioned against sharing too much.

“We need to be independent,” Boddy said. “We must maintain our identity.”

Another question asked candidates about how they could make sure that delays from major road repair projects didn’t happen again.

Thomas said they needed to review what happened in the past, figure out what didn’t work well and share benchmarks with residents.

“We have to be better at communicating and keeping people informed along the way,” he said.

Parthum echoed the idea of better communication with residents, but also noted that “sometimes things are out of our control as far as delays.”

Tomkowiak likewise acknowledged that these are issues City leaders sometimes can’t control, “but we can lessen the pain and impact by communicating better” and letting residents know when something is delayed and why.

“As a council member, it’s embarrassing how long it’s taken to fix some of these streets,” said Stempfle, who likewise advocated for improved communication with residents.

Boettcher said they should review past projects and “make decisions about not using some of these contractors again.”

Boddy felt that a City app, where residents could sign up for alerts, could be a good way to improve and speed communications, and suggested that perhaps they need to wait on some projects if they can’t get done in time.

“I do not accept the answer that we have done everything we can,” he said.

Fries agreed with the other respondents, and said the council and the city manager have to “be more proactive” on these issues.

Another question asked the candidates to respond yes or no with regard to whether they would fly the LGBTQ flag on City Hall during Pride Month in June. Thomas and Boddy said yes, Tomkowiak said she needed more information but yes, and Boettcher, Parthum, Stempfle and Fries said no.

Candidates were asked for their plans on engaging and marketing the community to young people with and without children.

“I think it’s incumbent on everyone to market our community,” said Parthum, who added that his family moved to the City because of the parks and the schools. He said that Grosse Pointe Rotary is investing a considerable sum on a new tot lot as well, which is an attraction for families.

Tomkowiak said City leaders need to develop events that young people want to attend and then “communicate those elements” to reach them.

Stempfle said communication is key, because “we have a fabulous city” but people don’t know about some of the activities at Neff Park and elsewhere; he felt the City’s forthcoming new website would help to get word out about these events.

Boddy disagreed, saying, “A website isn’t communication.” He said the City needs to brand and market itself.

“We are the stewards. … We are the ones who are responsible to deliver the answer to that question,” Boddy said.

Fries said the Cotton family in Grosse Pointe Park has “done a fabulous job” finding new businesses for Kercheval Avenue in the Park, and said they need a “Pure Grosse Pointe” campaign, similar to the Pure Michigan campaign.

Thomas said they need to identify unique experiences in the City, then tell and market that story with a marketing plan.

“It takes a village to communicate to those people you know … to get the word (out) about what you have to offer,” said Boettcher, adding that they need to figure out how to do this more effectively.

The full candidate forum, which includes much more information from and about the candidates, can be viewed online on the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe’s Facebook page and on YouTube, as well as at www.grossepointe.mi.lwvnet.org.

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