Six candidates for the Royal Oak City Commission, from left, Kyle DuBuc, Tom Hallock, Randy LeVasseur, Pamela Lindell, Belem Morales and Patricia Paruch, are vying for three four-year terms.

Six candidates for the Royal Oak City Commission, from left, Kyle DuBuc, Tom Hallock, Randy LeVasseur, Pamela Lindell, Belem Morales and Patricia Paruch, are vying for three four-year terms.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Royal Oak candidates face off at forum

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 15, 2019

 The Royal Oak City Commission boardroom, as well as a secondary overflow room with a TV broadcasting live, were standing-room-only for the forum. From left, Susan Davis Kienscherf, Judi Duncan-Yantis, Carole Thomas and Larry Yantiss sit in the front row.

The Royal Oak City Commission boardroom, as well as a secondary overflow room with a TV broadcasting live, were standing-room-only for the forum. From left, Susan Davis Kienscherf, Judi Duncan-Yantis, Carole Thomas and Larry Yantiss sit in the front row.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier answers questions posed by the audience during the League of Women Voters Royal Oak candidate forum at Royal Oak City Hall Oct. 7. His opponent, Stephen Miller, did not attend.

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier answers questions posed by the audience during the League of Women Voters Royal Oak candidate forum at Royal Oak City Hall Oct. 7. His opponent, Stephen Miller, did not attend.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — On Oct. 7, more than 100 people attended the mayoral and City Commission candidate panels facilitated by the League of Women Voters at Royal Oak City Hall.

While all six candidates for the City Commission showed up, mayoral candidate Stephen Miller was absent, leaving the floor all to Mayor Michael Fournier.

“This is unusual for us, so bear with us,” said moderator Tera Moon, of the League of Women Voters. She allowed Fournier more time to answer questions than the normally allotted minute per candidate.

In a written statement released the next morning, Miller offered an apology to those who thought he would be attending the forum. He said he had been traveling for four days and did not take his cellphone with him.

“I had no intention of sitting next to Mayor Fournier and listening to him spew the same old tired excuses when I would have had to confine myself to the limited restrictions that the LWVOA puts on candidates,” he wrote. 

Miller and Fournier are vying for a two-year term. Kyle DuBuc, former Commissioner Tom Hallock, Randy LeVasseur, Pamela Lindell, Belem Morales and Patricia Paruch are vying for three four-year terms. DuBuc, LeVasseur and Paruch currently sit on the commission.

Mayor

Fournier said the city’s crime is down 55% in the last decade and 17% since last year.

“We emerged from the great recession and now stand on a strong financial footing with a double A-plus bond rating and $15.5 million in the rainy day fund balance,” he said. “Our neighborhoods are flourishing with new trees, park investments and local street improvements in almost every quadrant of the city.”

When it comes to allowing recreational and medical marijuana establishments in the city, Fournier said he wants to implement it in the community the “right” way and “a very careful way.” Seventy percent of Royal Oak voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those ages 21 and older in the Nov. 7, 2018, general election.

“It’s not something that I’m rushing to do. It’s more important that we get it done right, but also at the same time, we don’t drag our feet and ignore the will of the people,” he said.

He said that by refinancing some of the city’s other post-employment benefits, the city now saves $2 million annually. The city, he said, is also spending 100 times more on park improvements than it did a decade or two ago, and half of the parks have seen significant improvements.

“Our population is aging. … We’ve recognized this, and we have established a senior citizens task force and we’ve partnered with the AARP,” Fournier said. “(We’ve been soliciting input) so we can establish the right ordinances, the right services, the right funding to ensure that everybody can age in place.”

In 2012, he said, the city created a plan to increase daytime foot traffic in the downtown by offering more office jobs. The Henry Ford medical outpatient building currently being built next to City Hall will employ 200-300 people, he said.

“It will generate, studies show, $200 (million) to $230 million of economic activity every year based on the number of people that will patronize this building, see Royal Oak, dine and shop in Royal Oak,” Fournier said.

To control the rat population in Royal Oak, he said, the city budgeted for covered trash receptacles in its parks, which will roll out next year, but that the biggest thing is to continue to inform residents that bird feeders and dog waste attract rats.

“I think the recycling containers we delivered to everyone’s door with the proper lids, that helps,” he said. “We have our staff looking right now at trying to get us an amount of what it would cost to do an annual pickup to get the junk out of people’s yards.”

City Commission

Moon asked the City Commission candidates questions submitted by members of the public who had gathered at City Hall for the event.

“I am not a career politician, but a frustrated resident. I’m saddened by the lack of transparency in this current commission,” Lindell said. “I believe in development — progress, if you like — but not at this frantic method of everything being ripped up, inconveniencing our citizens and costing our small-business owners revenue.”

Hallock said he was “very displeased with the bidding process on the City Hall contracts.”

“The city has issued 18 bids for over $30 million worth of no-bid contracts. In addition, quite a lot of these bids have gone to political donors, again with no bid,” Hallock said. “I find that unethical. I do not agree with that type of bidding.”

LeVasseur said he was not in favor of the city giving away $5.5 million plus “one of the most valuable pieces of property to a private developer without putting it out to a bid process,” and the situation seemed like “corruption or the perception of corruption.”

Morales said all contracts used in the project had been bid.

“To suggest that there’s any corruption going on would suggest that the city manager, the city attorney and each department head was involved in the corruption,” Morales said.

Paruch said the civic center has been a “red herring for certain candidates for quite some time.”

“All of the components of the city center project were publicly bid,” Paruch said. “The sale of the land to a private developer for building a private building is not a public works contract. That’s not required to be bid by the city charter.”

When asked about allowing recreational and medical marijuana establishments in the city, LeVasseur and Lindell said they would rather let other communities do so first.

“That’s not the spirit of Royal Oak. We are leaders. We get to set the path,” Morales said. “I think that we can actually set the pattern on how this should be handled. We can be an example for other downtown areas that this doesn’t have to be your drug dealer at the corner. This can actually be something where your grandparents can go get the marijuana they need for pain management.”

Paruch said the commission received a lot of valuable feedback from a survey about marijuana sent to residents, which will steer the commission’s future decisions.

“Unfortunately, the state law is fairly clear that says if you’re going to allow any marijuana businesses at all, you have to allow all of them, which means we have to allow a grow facility even if we don’t want a grow facility,” she said.

When asked how the candidates would address the underfunded police and fire pension fund, Paruch said she would like to channel the money the city saves from closing out the pension obligations for non-police and non-fire employees toward the pensions of police and fire personnel.

Hallock said he would like to see some of the revenue collected by the Downtown Development Authority help offset the cost of police and fire pensions.

When asked if they thought the bike lanes were successful, most candidates expressed that they liked the idea of bike lanes, but it remains to be seen if they are successful.

 “When we first started having the conversation about road diets, I wasn’t a huge believer,” DuBuc said. “It is actually the road diet itself that brings traffic calming, safer pedestrian conditions, left-turn lanes, and a much better road design from an engineering perspective.”

Hallock said he would have liked to have seen the issue of bike lanes put to a public vote, and that the rollout of the traffic islands is “grossly unsafe” due to a lack of metal posts to protect pedestrians.

“You have traffic backups and diversion of traffic into other roads, including into our residential neighborhoods,” LeVasseur said. “You have frustration from drivers, you have idling of cars because they can’t move because of the congestion, and you have more bicyclists decide to use the sidewalks alongside the bike lanes than actually use the bike lanes themselves.”

Paruch said the success of the bike lanes would become apparent after the conclusion of road projects on Interstate 75 and Stephenson Highway, as well after the retiming of the traffic lights.

 

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