Utica City Council candidates share their visions

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 10, 2018

UTICA — Three candidates will be running unopposed for three seats in the 2018 Utica City Council election in November.

The three candidates who are running for election will be incumbent Ken Sikora, Gus Calandrino and Brad O’Donnell. Councilman Bill Osladil will not be seeking re-election after he has been on the council since 2006, and Councilman Frank Czapski is running for mayor.

Sikora’s family has lived in Utica for 31 years. He is the co-owner of St. Clair Glass and Mirror, which has been located in Clinton Township for more than 35 years.

He belongs to an organization for hot rod enthusiasts, the Bearing Burners Auto Club, which raises money for various causes, including children’s charities.

Sikora is the senior member of the council, finishing his 29th year. He is also the mayor pro tem, holding this position for the third time during his tenure on council.

Sikora stated in an email that politics are very important to him.

“I once read a quote which stated: ‘Those who refuse to be involved in politics will be forever ruled by those who do.’ When my wife and I built our home in Utica 31 years ago, I decided that I would have a say in how things were run in the place, which we decided to call our home and raise our three sons. I was elected the very first time I ran at the age of 29 and (am) very proud of that,” Sikora stated.

“The interaction with our residents, business persons, city staff and those I meet (through) city business is truly enjoyed. But my passion is the responsibility of making the decisions which keep the city running, especially the budgeting process. Utica is actually a large business, and as in business, it is council’s duty to determine how to provide the best possible services for the least possible cost,” he said.

“During my next term, I will continue to be honest, outspoken, never shy away from anything difficult or challenging, and always do what is best for Utica as a whole,” said Sikora.

Calandrino, who has been on the Downtown Development Authority board for Utica since his March 2017 appointment, is an information technology project manager for a financial services company in downtown Detroit. His family moved to Utica in 2004, his son and daughter attend Utica Community Schools, and his wife is a member of the Utica Public Library Board of Directors.

He volunteers with the library and the Parks and Recreation Department. He and his wife help manage the library’s ongoing poetry reading series at the library. He also helps with city events as a volunteer staff member.

Calandrino has a background in graphic design and was asked to create the new logo for the city. He also designed the logo for the Appetite for Art festival, and he assists with the city’s website.

Calandrino stated in an email that he believes the people are the most important aspect in government.

“I believe the highest priority of government should be to serve the best interests of its residents. I spent six years in the U.S. Navy and quickly learned that along with the honor of public service comes a lot of responsibility. I’ve been disappointed by former city leaders who were more concerned with special interests than the interests of the taxpayers they serve,” he stated.

“I also believe it’s vitally important that we stop the practice of balancing our budget by dipping into the city’s reserves. These issues are my motivation for running for City Council. We must spend within our means and let the residents (who pay the bills) decide the future of our city,” stated Calandrino.

While he has served on the Downtown Development Authority, Calandrino said that there have been many changes that have contributed to the community.

“The DDA has a stable revenue stream due to tax increment financing. Because of the nature of the revenue, it’s very easy for government to treat these resources as a piggy bank for pet projects and frivolous spending. Since joining the DDA, my goal has been to ensure DDA money is spent responsibly, resulting in significant and lasting benefits to the city. We have changed the focus of the DDA from primarily sponsoring costly downtown entertainment events to investing in permanent improvements to our parks and infrastructure,” stated Calandrino.

“Major parking improvements at Grant Park are currently in the planning stage. We’re also working on remediation plans for the brownfield located north of Eppler Junior High. We recently purchased new picnic tables and umbrellas for one of our parks. We also added garbage cans to the bike trail from Heritage Park all the way to the Shelby Township border. These are the types of projects which make lasting and significant improvements to our city,” he stated.

O’Donnell has lived in Utica for three years and is part of the Planning Commission. He works for a software company as an implementation manager, guiding clients through the process of setting up their electronic medical records. He recently switched careers from the nonprofit industry, where he was director of development and community relations for an organization that helps children with autism. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University in 2011.

“The best part of Planning Commission is helping the businesses along the process. As long as all the health and safety functions are in place, it’s exciting to work with a business to develop their idea into reality. I love meeting new people, so it is always a lot of fun to hear what folks have to say about their new business,” O’Donnell stated in an email.

O’Donnell said he is running for office to make sure residents of Utica get more of what they want.

“Utica is at a crossroads. At a time when young and old alike are fleeing Michigan to big cities and Western states, now is Utica’s opportunity to make decisions about the future that will keep us vibrant for years to come. Let’s get the city out of fiscal insolvency and start investing in things residents actually want: nicer parks, community police and fire, and safer roads,” he stated.

Utica’s 2018-19 budget forecasts using $148,000 from its unassigned fund balance and $228,300 from assigned and reserved fund balances. The city has more than $2.2 million in its overall fund balance.

While going out to meet the community, O’Donnell said he has been surprised by the ideas of the voters and that they differ from what the city is doing.

“If you asked many city officials what challenges Utica faces, they would immediately start talking about downtown. Downtown is important, but if we want to create a vibrant Utica, we need to focus on all areas of the city,” said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell said that if he is elected, he plans to fix Utica’s fiscal problems with no new taxes. He said he wants to focus on generating more revenue by fixing “broken” zoning laws. He would like the city to curb cutting down trees and build upward.

He also wants to take an inventory of liabilities and prioritize small businesses.

City Councilman Bill Osladil was contacted by C & G Newspapers about his decision not to run again and said he preferred not to comment, feeling the focus now is on the candidates.

Those who want to file to run as a write-in candidate can file a declaration of intent with the City Clerk’s Office until 4 p.m. Oct. 26.