Piana elected Ferndale mayor

Voters elect incumbent, 2 new council members

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 5, 2019

 Michael Gray leaves the poll after voting at the Ferndale Area District Library Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Michael Gray leaves the poll after voting at the Ferndale Area District Library Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FERNDALE — Ferndale has a new mayor, but she’s not new to the City Council.

Residents elected former City Council member Melanie Piana as the city’s mayor during the Nov. 5 election. She will take office at the beginning of 2020.

With all nine precincts reporting, according to the Oakland County Elections Division’s website, Piana received 2,877 votes to the 1,463 votes of her challenger, Brian Stawowy. Of the 4,370 votes cast, Piana obtained 65.84% of the total. There were 30 unassigned write-in votes.

“(I’m) grateful and thankful that the … residents and voters of Ferndale have confidence in me to continue my leadership on behalf of the city,” said Piana. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

Ferndale also was the site of two different council races. Three seats were available: two seats for full four-year terms and one seat for one partial term of two years.

Current Council member Raylon Leaks-May retained her seat on the council for another four years. Joining her is Kat Bruner James, who received the most votes in the race.

James and Leaks-May received 2,344 and 1,986 votes, respectively. Missing the cut were Nada Daher, Augusto Flores and Ben Buttolph. They received 1,464; 1,147; and 961 votes, respectively.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and it was finally the right time in my life to be able to run,” James said. “I’m already enrolling in newly elected official training and getting myself up to speed so I can hit the ground running in January.”

First elected to council in 2015, Leaks-May said she was “humbled” to be reelected.

“This race was a little bit difficult this time around because I came in as an incumbent, and when you come in as an incumbent, you come in with a record that some people are pleased with and some people aren’t,” she said. “So I didn’t know how this was going to go, but it looks like the city of Ferndale said, ‘Yes, four more years,’ and I’m just ready to … continue working.”

For the council’s one partial term, Laura Mikulski was elected to the seat, receiving 1,841 votes. She beat out current Council member Dennis Whittie, who received 1,396 votes, and Rolanda Kelley and Maryanne Wessels, who received 511 and 374 votes, respectively.

“I’m incredibly humbled and grateful,” Mikulski said. “I absolutely could not have done it if I did not have such good connections with the community and if residents didn’t believe in me and trust me. It’s been an incredible experience.”

Piana’s immediate focus is to get James and Mikulski ready for their new positions and up to speed on government assets and departments. Outside of that, she’s looking forward to reviewing the results of an upcoming affordable housing study.

“It is supposed to conclude in the first quarter of 2020, and I definitely heard from the residents — going door to door — that making sure all community members can afford to live in our community is a priority,” she said. “So (I’m) looking forward to what recommendations and policy directions come out of that study, and that will be a focus for me and council.”

James said that she started off the campaign knowing she wanted to focus on communication and community engagement, and after hearing from residents during the campaign, she said that seemed to be a high priority for everyone.

“A lot of the issues flow from there,” she said. “Whether its taxes, code enforcement, affordable housing — all of it sort of falls under the umbrella of city leadership communicating to residents about what’s already in place, what decisions are on the table and really finding better ways for residents to both receive that information and engage with city leadership to give their input on what their priorities are.”

Outside of affordable housing — which she feels will take a while to accomplish — Leaks-May aims to work more on community engagement.

“Considering that we had such a divide and so many candidates … something that I can work on even sooner is even more community engagement,” she said. “Like maybe some town halls or maybe some meetups with residents that can’t come to City Council meetings, because that many candidates running, and the reasons why they were running, really resonated with me. Some of the residents aren’t feeling heard or included in the city’s decisions, so I’m really going to focus on that more.”

Mikulski said she wants to take a bunch of aggregated data she gathered from residents during the campaign, take those concerns directly to City Council and propose solutions.

“There’s a lot of concerns around the Kulick center and keeping and maintaining it, as well as improving our Community Center,” she said. “Property taxes is a huge concern, sanitation and the rat situation is a huge concern, and there are very basic steps that can be taken to achieve some of those goals, but I have a basic idea of where I want to move with all of that.”

All four women will be sworn into office at the first meeting of 2020.

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