From left, Grosse Pointe Farms City Clerk Derrick Kozicki administers the oath of office to newly elected Farms City Council members Beth Konrad-Wilberding, Joe Ricci, Neil Sroka and Lev Wood Nov. 11.

From left, Grosse Pointe Farms City Clerk Derrick Kozicki administers the oath of office to newly elected Farms City Council members Beth Konrad-Wilberding, Joe Ricci, Neil Sroka and Lev Wood Nov. 11.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Newcomers and incumbents elected to councils in Farms, Shores

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 12, 2019


GROSSE POINTE FARMS/GROSSE POINTE SHORES — A mixture of newcomers and familiar faces will be seated around the council tables in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores.

While Farms Mayor Louis Theros and Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski ran unopposed for new two-year terms on Election Day Nov. 5, their council colleagues faced contested races.

During a Farms City Council meeting Nov. 11, City Clerk Derrick Kozicki administered the oath of office to Theros and the council members — incumbents Joe Ricci and Lev Wood, along with newcomers Beth Konrad-Wilberding and Neil Sroka.

In the regular council election, Ricci was the top vote-getter in the Farms with 29.95% of the total, followed by Wood with 25.25% and Sroka with 24.36%. Sierra Leone Donaven, who was appointed to fill the seat of City Councilwoman Therese Joseph in the summer of 2018 after Joseph stepped down, lost her bid for re-election to what would have been a full four-year term, garnering 20.26% of the total vote.

Donaven’s appointment had been hailed by the community as a local civil rights milestone, given that she was the first African American to serve on any of the councils in the five Grosse Pointes. Theros said Donaven’s service to the community will be honored at the December City Council meeting.

Sroka, the communications director for Democracy for America, has worked behind the scenes in politics in the past, but this time, he was the one running for office. At 35, he’s the youngest person on the Farms council, and he hopes to bring the perspective of a young father in the community today. Sroka said he’d like to make the Farms more welcoming to young families and also make sure that older residents who’d like to stay in the city but need to downsize can find the housing they’re seeking.

Sroka said his top priorities include “increasing transparency by ramping up community engagement ahead of big issues, and streaming meetings on the web.” He said he’d also like to see the council “play a more active role in helping strengthen our schools in these challenging times.” Working collaboratively with neighboring communities and “taking proactive steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in the community” are essential as well, Sroka said.

In an especially crowded field, Konrad-Wilberding, the principal of Konrad Communications and an adjunct professor at Wayne State University, was one of six candidates running in a special election to fill the remaining two years on the term of Farms City Councilman Peter Waldmeir, who died this summer. A former member of the Grosse Pointe Board of Education, Konrad-Wilberding edged out her closest challenger, Jamie Dingeman, by only 28 votes.

She received 27.99% of the total, compared to Dingeman’s 27.08%. Konrad-Wilberding said she grew to know and respect Dingeman on the campaign trail, and while she was happy to win the seat, she was also sad to see him lose.

She believes her platform and personally knocking on hundreds of doors in the Farms helped her with voters.

“It was very much a grassroots effort,” Konrad-Wilberding said of her campaign.

She said her platform focused on infrastructure, sustainability and Mack Avenue development in conjunction with neighboring communities.

“I believe Grosse Pointe Farms truly is the gem of the Grosse Pointes,” Konrad-Wilberding said. “It has the best leadership.”

Voter turnout for a local election — even by Grosse Pointe standards, where turnout tends to be high — was especially strong in the Farms, where 40.33% of the city’s 8,770 registered voters cast ballots.

Kozicki said no-reason absentee voting led to a “significant increase” in absentee ballots and voting overall. More than half of Farms voters did so via absentee ballot.

“I’d say we had greater than expected turnout in all of the precincts,” Kozicki said. “The city’s ‘get out the vote’ efforts (through social media and email marketing) are working.”

At the Farms City Hall precinct, election workers said voters spanned the gamut from an 18-year-old woman voting in her first election to a 101-year-old woman who was determined to cast her ballot in person.

In the Shores, incumbent City Council members Robert Gesell and Tina Ellis weren’t seeking reelection, clearing the way for at least two — and possibly three — newcomers. In the end, voters chose incumbent City Councilman Douglas Kucyk, who received 24.82% of the total vote; along with Harbor Committee Chair John Seago, a dentist; and Danielle Gehlert, also a dentist.

Gehlert was the top vote-getter in the Shores, with 29.29% of the total, followed by Seago with 26.63%. The election drew 30.26% of the Shores’ 2,498 registered voters, with almost half of the votes cast being absentee ballots.

The newly elected and reelected Shores officials are expected to be sworn into office during the next regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 19.