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 Grosse Pointe Woods City Council candidates, from left, Michael Koester, Seth A. Winterholler, Art Bryant, Richard Shetler Jr. and Kenneth Gafa participate in the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe candidate forum Oct. 17 inside the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council chambers.

Grosse Pointe Woods City Council candidates, from left, Michael Koester, Seth A. Winterholler, Art Bryant, Richard Shetler Jr. and Kenneth Gafa participate in the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe candidate forum Oct. 17 inside the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council chambers.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Woods candidate forum focuses on city issues as election nears

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 29, 2019


GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Grosse Pointe Woods residents recently got to know better the five candidates running for City Council in the Nov. 5 election.

Incumbents Art Bryant, Michael Koester and Richard Shetler Jr., and challengers Kenneth Gafa and Seth A. Winterholler are running for three open seats.

On  Oct. 17, the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe sponsored a candidate forum inside the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council chambers. The candidates made brief opening and closing remarks about themselves and why they are running for public office. Judy Florian, League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe vice president for voter services, was the moderator.

“I have had the privilege of serving the residents of Grosse Pointe Woods as a member of the Woods City Council for the past eight years,” Koester said. “I try to pay attention to where we are spending our resources. Hopefully I’ve been able to demonstrate to you that the issues that come in front of the City Council, I’m well-informed. I understand the nuances, and I make informed decisions. I spend my time making sure that I understand the details so that when things come up, I’m not making a decision that doesn’t make sense. Every decision I make, I’m well-informed and I try to be reasonable.”

“As a candidate for Grosse Pointe Woods City Council, I have repeatedly stated that we must partner with and support our community organizations in order for our children to grow, for our seniors to prosper, for our city to strengthen,” Gafa said. “I have lived, dined and shopped in Grosse Pointe Woods for 23 years. To be a stronger community, we must be inclusive and harness the strength of diversity. We have different viewpoints, we have different backgrounds, but we have common hopes founded on family, our children, our seniors. That is our community. We come from different places, but we want to move in a common direction.”

Shetler Jr. has been on the City Council for eight years.

“In the past two terms, I’m very glad to say that I’ve helped to promote a transparent and responsive government, improving roads, sidewalks, supporting public safety and constantly looking for ways to improve city services,” Shetler Jr. said. “With council, I was glad that I was able in the last three years to watch and spearhead and promote a new aerial tower for the city. We’re going to replace the current one that is approximately 28 years old. This past year, I made sure I was supporting Mason during the reconfiguration process. I’ve also promoted Grosse Pointe Woods locally and through the state.”

“For the family, for the future, for the Woods, it’s not just a campaign slogan, it’s a road map to our future,” Winterholler said. “We bring families in by keeping property taxes affordable. We do this by running our city transparently and efficiently.

“We bring in new families by revitalizing Mack Avenue. We can do that by working with the Planning Commission and the Avenue in the Woods association to help market vacant buildings and provide incentives for attractive new development,” Winterholler said. “As a grassroots candidate not being supported by any political organizations … I need your help to get elected.”

Bryant has been on the council 12 years.

“I’m running for reelection for City Council because I sincerely believe that in the three terms that I have had, along with other members of the council, I was able to maintain Grosse Pointe Woods in a very good position relative to other cities in Michigan,” Bryant said. “We accomplished things like building a water storage tank that saves our city $300,000 a year. The Detroit Children’s Home property has been turned into a senior living facility that adds substantially to our tax base at a time when we definitely need it. There are still many things to do.”

Questions from the public
Audience members could ask questions by writing them down and handing them to League of Women Voters members. Fifty-five questions were turned in, but there was only time for 11 to be asked.

Candidates had up to one minute to respond to each question addressed to the entire group. For questions directed to a particular candidate, that candidate had up to 90 seconds to respond. The other candidates could respond to the same question and had up to one minute to do so.

The first question focused on what the candidates feel the top three issues facing the city are and how would they address them.

One issue Winterholler wants to address is crime, something he said that he constantly keeps his eye on. Winterholler would like to see a community policing program that utilizes a virtual neighborhood watch. Transparency also is a priority.

“Most towns televise their council meetings. For us, there is no way for you to see what happens here. You have to actually show up at 7 o’clock on Mondays. So we need to livestream that,” Winterholler said. “Another thing is fiscal responsibility. We need to make sure this town is affordable for families to move into. If our taxes continue to rise, we’re going to be pricing a lot of people out of the market.”

Bryant only had time to mention two issues.

“The first item would be an emphasis on looking at the infrastructure. That got in bad shape when taxes, receipts of taxes, went way down in 2007, 2008,” Bryant said. “We had to really cut back on things like doing roads and other repairs. We did the sewers. We did the water, but we didn’t do as much of it as we should. We need to spend a lot more time getting into that.

“We need to worry still about controlling costs because we are not moving up in the amount of money that we get from the residential and commercial taxes,” he said. “The rate of which we can reclaim what we lost is nowhere near the rate of which the actual values are going up.”

Shetler Jr. listed the top three issues as Mack Avenue business development, legacy benefits for retirees and infrastructure.

“Mack Avenue is a great street and it’s a great thoroughfare for everyone to be able to experience. The walkability is there for the residents and the neighborhoods. That’s something we have to continue to develop,” Shelter Jr. said. “We have retirees that we have a promise to for their pensions, as well as their health care. We have to make sure we keep that solid. Infrastructure, water, sewer and roads, we have to make sure that with the mature system that we have that we continue to keep it up to the top par.”

Gafa’s top three issues are roads, Mack Avenue business and City Council partnerships.

“Due to the financial crisis, roads got put on the back burner. Well, now that the crisis is over but tax revenues are slowly creeping up, we need to maintain and repair our roads and replace as quickly as possible. That’s No. 1,” Gafa said.

“The Mack Avenue business. We have a lot of empty spaces and we need to do as much as we can to work with the Mayor’s Mack Avenue (Business Study Committee), the Planning Commission and Avenue in the Woods,” Gafa said. “We might need to liaison with all three and try to coordinate some effort to get those empty spaces filled. Our council partnerships, we should be able (to) partner with more of the groups that are within our city and start working with them, because they are part of the fabric of our city.”

“The three things that I think we need to focus on first are judicial fiscal decisions. While our city’s fiscal situation has improved over the last eight years, it’s always something we need to be mindful of. We don’t want to take things for granted,” Koester said. “For example, the council, about two months ago, approved a new pharmacy benefits plan that will save the city about $125,000 a year for retiree prescription drug savings. … That’s a wonderful benefit right there.

“Secondly, infrastructure. Councilmember Bryant talked about the roads and some water programs. We want to continue on that one,” Koester said. “Finally, the one thing that is important that came to my attention through the Recreation Commission was our community needs tot lots in our parks for kids age 2 to 5.”

Another question centered on whether or not the current Public Safety Department, using crossed-trained officers, is better than separate police and fire departments.

Koester, Gafa, Bryant and Shetler Jr. are satisfied with the current system. Winterholler said he would not want to combine police services but would like to consider combining fire services with the other Grosse Pointes.

“That could mean two or three stations throughout the Grosse Pointes with firefighters that would serve all the communities,” he said.

The candidate forum is available on Search for “Grosse Pointe Woods candidate forum.”