Hartwell announces Madison Heights mayoral bid

Mayor pro tem will resign to challenge Swanson; Gettings returns to council

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 26, 2015

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Brian Hartwell, mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, has announced his candidacy for mayor. He will challenge incumbent Ed Swanson in the general election Nov. 3.

According to the city charter, a council member must submit a letter of resignation, effective immediately, if they challenge the mayor. Hartwell said City Council will accept his resignation at the meeting July 27, at which point Bob Gettings will be sworn in as his replacement. Gettings is a former councilman and runner-up in the 2013 election.

Swanson has been mayor for eight terms — 16 years — and is seeking a ninth term. Hartwell feels the time is right for someone new.

“I have a lot of respect for Ed (Swanson), and most of what I do is a reflection of his teaching,” Hartwell said. “It’s just that we haven’t had a new mayor in a while. I think we’re ready. It’s time for a new face, and I’m going to give voters that option.”

Hartwell has served for eight years on council. For half of that time, he has been mayor pro tem. He’s a business owner, with a law firm in Madison Heights, and he’s a lifelong resident of the city. Hartwell has degrees in economics, politics and law.

“I have the leadership experience … and I have the education,” Hartwell said. “I also have the passion: I love this city — I love the people here — and I’ve been pushing for new projects, such as the Information Technology Advisory Committee.”

He said he’s very concerned about the needs of the senior population. He operates a pro bono law firm out of the Senior Center.

“I’m regularly communicating with seniors and hearing what’s happening and what’s going on,” Hartwell said. “One big issue I want to talk about is the mobility and independence of the seniors in our city. A lot of clients tell me that once they lose their driver’s license, they lose their independence. So I’m concerned about mass transit — busing seniors to doctors and such.”

Hartwell said he is pleased with the People-Powered Transportation Plan, conceived by the Planning Commission and adopted last year. Starting with the 2015-16 construction season, the city will make additional improvements to the sidewalks, bike lanes and more.

“This plan facilitates nonmotorized travel for pedestrians and cyclists,” Hartwell said. “A lot of seniors and younger residents walk. It really affects every age.”

He said that in the last 12 months, he’s proud to have stood his ground against SOCRRA — the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority — when it dumped thousands of tons of trash at SOCRRA’s transfer facility east of John R and north of 13 Mile. The dumping took place one week after the flood last August, without anyone notifying the city.

SOCRRA does not serve Madison Heights, but dumped there so it could make more trips more quickly. SOCRRA officials didn’t receive an emergency permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality until a few days after they had already dumped. The open-air trash heap was right near a senior center and middle school. 

“I told them not another ounce of trash will come in, and we were able to clean up that site before school commenced,” Hartwell said.    

He also took a stand when SMART failed to keep its bus stops accessible this past winter. Piles of compacted snow and ice forced people to stand in the streets, or climb up and over slippery slopes to reach the bus. Hartwell mobilized groups of volunteers to help address the situation, breaking away snow and ice so people could safely reach the buses.

“I’m very proud of that project,” Hartwell said.

On the topic of why he wants to be mayor, Hartwell said the role of mayor is influential both inside and outside the city.

“Every year I’ve been on council, I’ve gone to Lansing for Michigan Municipal League conferences, building a network of trust with other regional leaders. I’ve also done this as a chairman of the Millennial Mayors Congress,” Hartwell said. “I feel these relationships paid off when I was able to contact all 12 mayors from the SOCRRA communities after SOCRRA dumped in our city. They picked up the phone because they know me and trust me, and I was able to educate them on what SOCRRA was doing.”

He said it’s an exciting time for the city.

“From a historical standpoint, Madison Heights is turning a page this year. We just beat the Great Recession, and starting with next year’s budget, we actually have a surplus. So I think this is a key point where we’ll start rebuilding,” Hartwell said. “I think someone from my generation is best-suited to move the city forward. I found a lot of early support — a lot of people who said it’s time for new ideas and new energy. That culminated in me throwing my hat in the race.”

Swanson said that when it comes to the mayor of Madison Heights, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

“You can go back on my record (as mayor). Forty thousand people in Madison Heights, and up until now, they still want me as mayor — what an honor,” Swanson said. “I unified the council. I was the first council member to take a reduction in compensation. Between my wife and I, we reinstated the fall festival at the nature center and the holiday lights at City Hall. I would hope, if I’m not in office, they would continue.

“We’re fortunate we have fantastic department heads, supervisors and employees, a fantastic city manager, financial director and so on,” he continued. “I want to continue to revitalize the area of the Downtown Development Authority and drive new businesses to commercial and industrial districts. I’m trying to support activities that support the seniors and youth of the community. And like everyone, I’m trying to fix the roads.”

Swanson is a Korean War veteran and businessman. He and his wife Elaine, who have three children, “started with nothing,” as he said, and now they’re on their third funeral home in the city. He said his community involvement along the way has been very important to him.

“My biggest thrill is when I go to Meijer, or go out to eat, and people stand up and say, ‘Hi, Mr. Mayor — you’re doing a great job,’” Swanson said. “It’s really an honor that makes my day.”

Gettings, who will be returning to council once Hartwell resigns, said he will once again champion the Recreation Department, something that has always been important to him.

“I want to see the public service departments fully staffed and make sure police and fire have all the equipment and manpower they need. But recreation is also really important to me,” Gettings said. “I was on council for four years, and I never missed a meeting. I have perfect attendance. I take this job very, very seriously. I think it’s an important position, and you really need to do your homework on the issues. I hope to continue to do that and make all of the meetings.”

Hartwell said the race this fall will be about “voters’ options and ideas, and faith that the mayor’s office is used for creativity and progress.”

“It doesn’t matter who the person is,” Hartwell said, “so long as those ideas are pushed forward.”

For more information on Brian Hartwell, visit www.electbrianhartwell.com.

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