New Novi City Council member Priya Gurumurthy takes the oath of office after the council selected her to fill an open seat Dec. 18.

New Novi City Council member Priya Gurumurthy takes the oath of office after the council selected her to fill an open seat Dec. 18.

Photo provided by city of Novi

Novi City Council appoints Gurumurthy to vacant seat

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published January 10, 2024


NOVI — After controversy on how to best fill the City Council seat vacated by Justin Fischer after he was elected to be the city’s mayor in November — when differences of opinion resulted in a deadlocked council vote on a motion to put the fourth-highest vote-getter in the November election on the council — the council unanimously voted Dec. 18 to appoint Priya Gurumurthy as the city’s newest council member.

“I am truly honored, privileged and grateful for being appointed as Novi City Council Member. This role presents an incredible opportunity to make a tangible difference in our community. I am ready to collaborate, learn, and grow in this position, striving to bring a meaningful impact to our community,” Gurumurthy said on Linkedin.

Gurumurthy, 45, was selected from a pool of nearly 20 candidates. She has experience on various governmental committees in both Novi and the city of Holland over the last decade. Most recently, she served on the Novi Public Library board of trustees. This experience was something that the majority of the City Council members said they were seeking in a candidate.

A few council members restated their perspective that they should have chosen Sujata Raman, who was the fourth-highest vote-getter in the election for three council seats. Among them were Matt Heintz and Ericka Thomas.

“Being that the election was recently occurred, I feel that the moral responsibility of the council is to recognize the votes from Novi residents and select the fourth-highest vote-getter,” said Heintz. “I want to make it perfectly clear that this isn’t about the individual. It’s about the principle to me. Whether it be any of the other candidates, if they were to receive the fourth-highest votes, my position would truly and genuinely be the same as it is today. I feel that by ignoring the voice of the voters we are also potentially losing the trust of the voters that we are here to serve.”

“In most cases, everything that comes before us, it’s either clear or there are pros and cons that you can weigh. There are shades of gray. It’s rare that I am so certain about a topic as I am today. … I think the option that makes the most sense is to listen to the voters and appoint the next highest vote-getter,” Thomas said. “It seems very clear to me that that’s the right way to go. Our job is (to be) servants of the community, and it’s the voice of the community that should drive our decisions, and I can’t think of a voice that is louder than those election results.”

Councilman Brian Smith, who after the council deadlocked in November voted for the interview process that the council used to select Gurumurthy, and thereby avoided a special election that might have cost $70,000, said he thought long and hard over the six weeks about doing the right thing. He said that most council votes are unanimous because the right thing to do is pretty clear, such as paying the bills, fixing infrastructure and providing public safety.

“Where things get really interesting for me is where we have to weigh several potential right things and decide how to balance them. In these cases, we each have to answer for ourselves the question that member Heintz asked during the interviews last week. … ‘How do you balance your personal beliefs and what’s best for the city as a whole?’ We’re also a deliberative body; it takes four votes here to make a decision. So in addition to answering that question individually, we also have to find an answer collectively as a group,” Smith said.

“In the last years, compromise has taken on what I feel is a very undeserved negative connotation. It really is the fundamental basis of the democratic system. Is a right thing to do appointing Ms. Raman because she is the next highest vote-getter in the recent election? Yes. I think that would be a right thing. Is the right thing to do coming to a decision tonight that avoids a special election? Yes, I also think that is a right thing. Time and money are both limited resources. We’d be spending at least three months in a six-person council, which I don’t feel would be a good thing for the city as a whole,” Smith said.

Gurumurthy was out of the country at the time of the last election and therefore did not run for council. She said she has always wanted to be on council. Along with serving on the library board, she is on the executive board for the Novi Youth Assistance program, and she is on the Novi Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee. In Holland, she was a member of the Tulip Time Festival board of directors and the Herrick Library board.

She is a graduate of the University of Madras, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a master’s in computer science. She currently works for automotive supplier YanFeng in the position of information technology director and is a mother of two.

As a council member, she said she plans to focus on optimization for road construction; expanding affordable housing and fostering a senior-friendly community; cultivating environmental solutions; and promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the community.

“What sets me apart is the proven track record in leadership, negotiation, strategic planning as well as the board experience from a different city in Michigan,” she said during her interview for the council. “I’m known for my ability to bring people together, in fact across the globe, and build trust and overcome differences through a data-driven approach, achieving common goals. … I’m deeply committed to serving our city. I look forward to the possibility of working together for all our residents.”

Raman said during public comment that although she might appear as a “sore loser,” she said she is simply “angry and sad” that the voices of the people were not heard.

“What I am is a Novi resident and one of 5,614 voters whose voice was ignored and whose vote was invalidated in favor of the votes and voices of the six of you tonight,” Raman said. “Sure, technically, you followed the city charter. However, you did so in a way that suited your purposes, not those of the residents of the city you were elected to serve. What you can do and what you should do are not always the same thing.”

Smith suggested earlier in the meeting that after the decision was made that people should give the appointed person and the council some time to work together and make some decisions as a council before determining whether or not the right choice was made.