OPINION: The Saline Post's Endorsements in the Local Elections

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 11/04/2018 - 23:02

Every election cycle, The Saline Post interviews local candidates and speaks to leaders about issues on the ballot. It’s one of the ways The Saline Post covers local news.

Based on the coverage, the Saline Post endorses candidates and recommends support or non-support of referendum questions. These recommendations are not to tell you how to vote or what to think. They’re another piece of information you can use when making your decision.

Endorsements can come with negative reactions, especially in a small town, and especially since The Saline Post does not have an “editorial board” that gathers around the table to debatee these matters. I’m the publisher of The Saline Post, so these are my endorsements. I offer them knowing they have caused hard feelings in the past and may do so in the future. But I’ve covered a lot of news in Saline and I’m often asked my views. This is one of the few times I’ll share them.

Here are The Saline Post’s recommendations.

Saline Board of Education

There are six candidates for two positions. All six candidates bring something unique to the table. All would serve the community well. I mean this sincerely. For example, when Tom Frederick, the former Saline High School teacher, filed to run, I was very concerned that he had an axe to grind or that he was going to try to swing the board to the cultural right. Ultimately, one never truly knows what’s in a candidate’s heart, but I found Frederick to be thoughtful, engaging and even though I don’t agree with Frederick on several issues, I believe he would perform well on the board and represent a part of the community that is sometimes ignored.

But based on the Q&A’s the candidates answered, their performances at the public forum, and the way they answered questions during our “AMAs,” I believe the best candidates for the board are Brian Woodruff and Scott Hummel.

Woodruff is a pediatric neurologist with some government experience (serving on the Pittsfield Township Parks and Recreation Board). He’s been involved in the schools as a trustee on the Foundation for Saline Area Schools. On important matters, Woodruff is willing to be firm. He did not hesitate during a Facebook interview when shooting down the idea of teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, even if his answer might have offended some. At the candidates forum, he differentiated himself with a strong statement about the importance of having our schools pay keen attention to the issues faced by LGBTQ+ students. And at the forum, when most of the candidates were telling us that a board trustee represents the students, Woodruff was willing to stand out and say that the trustee represents all of the citizens in the district. After all, it’s a trustee’s job to represent the interests of the fixed-income senior worried about being taxed out of their home as much as it to represent the family of five with three school aged children. That kind of answer doesn’t always play well in a forum in a school room filled with students and their moms and dads. At the board table, we need clear-eyed thinkers who aren’t afraid to speak up and go against the flow.

There are many reasons to vote for Scott Hummel. For one, he’s an incumbent. Other board members speak well of Hummel’s performance. He’s served on the board’s finance committee and has a good understanding of how schools are funded and of Saline’s financial condition. Hummel has worked as an educator in Dearborn schools for 22 years, which gives him unique insights into many issues which will come before the board. He’s been a union representative and been involved in negotiating – more experience that can be useful at the board table.

Both candidates have the support of Saline’s teacher’s union leadership. But both have provided answers that tell us they understand the financial limitations the district faces.

Truthfully, I could make a case for any of the candidates – but I believe Woodruff and Hummel were the best at articulating their positions, especially at the forum and during our Facebook interviews. It’s important that candidates articulate their positions well when making decisions at the board table.

Saline Road Millage

Voters in the City of Saline will decide on proposal to amend the Saline City Charter authorizing the city to enact property-tax levy for an additional one mill for street and right of way repairs and improvements from 2019-2023. Voting yes will give Saline City Council the ability to levy 1 mill per year for road construction. To pass the millage beyond 2023, the city would have to go back to the voters again.

According to the city, the city roads have a rating of 4.5 on the 1-to-10 Paser scale. Depending on what you read, that’s poor to fair.  With the $435,000 a year generated by a road millage, the city hopes to raise the Paser score to 6.5 by 2028. But that requires $900,000 – nearly twice as much than what would be raised by the millage. The city hopes to use new Washtenaw County road millage money and grant money to fill in the rest. Mayor Marl indicated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, who has campaigned on road improvements, would also be expected to help cities pay for road improvements if she wins.

There are some issues here. The city is asking for a five-year tax increase – but projecting for 10 years worth of funding at nearly double what the millage would raise. Another crucial issue is the local tax rate. In recent years, Saline residents have shouldered a school bond proposal, a county-wide special education millage and a county road millage. A resident in the City of Saline pays a higher tax rate than one in Dexter or Chelsea. And Saline will be nipping at Ann Arbor’s heels if this tax proposal is passed.

But Saline’s roads need work. Even though taxable values rose faster in Saline than any other Washtenaw city, they’re not growing fast enough to pay for the needed improvement.

The Saline Post supports a “Yes” on the road millage. The state’s cuts to revenue sharing, the Headlee amendment, the 2007-08 financial crisis and its aftermath left cities scrambling to stay above water. Important infrastructure needs have gone unmet, and the quality of Saline’s roads have suffered.

Support for the road millage comes with qualifications. If the state does come through with new road funding, we expect the city to lower the millage – whether it’s the special road millage or the general millage. More must also be done to acquire outside funding for road projects.

Saline Mayor and Saline City Council

Mayor Brian Marl and councillors Janet Dillon, Dean Girbach and Christen Mitchell are unopposed as they seek re-election to two-year terms. It’s interesting because those three council members are the ones most likely to end up on the other side of the Mayor during a contested vote. All three have had terse interactions with the mayor at the council table.

That’s how it should work. And that’s one reason why all of the above deserve your vote.

This will be the Mayor’s fourth term. Not many expected he’d serve more than three terms as mayor before seeking higher office. This is the mayor’s second consecutive uncontested race, which tells you something about his popularity. For all the complaints about the wastewater treatment plant, the development on Monroe Street, and other issues, people seem to understand that defeating the Mayor in a general election would be a daunting task.

The mayor has rubbed some the wrong way with his diehard support of residential, commercial and industrial growth. But he’s always been forthright about his support of growth. At times, he seems a little too eager to stray from the city’s standards or give in to developer requests. For example, the trend toward developments without on-street parking seems particularly egregious. The Fairdene development is yet another example. But there’s something to be said for getting developments finished and growing the tax base before the next economic downturn. As you look around Saline, we have a movie theatre, a hotel is under construction, a new international automated bus company has opened, we’ve seen new businesses along all four corners in downtown Saline.

On the infrastructure front, on the Mayor’s watch we’ve seen the successful completion of the Michigan Avenue project and downtown streetscape, road projects funded ahead of schedule and improved sidewalks.

The mayor is a strong representative for the city of Saline, whether he’s dealing with investors and developers, or cutting ribbons and speaking at local events. He deserves to be re-elected.

At the same time, he deserves to be questioned.

Councillors Dillon, Girbach and Mitchell have done just that. At times to a fault? Perhaps. Some of the council discussions are far too long. But the city is well served by all three council members. They asked tough and fair questions about the hotel development -- to dismay of some investors. They’ve asked tough questions of City Manager Todd Campbell and Superintendent Gary Roubal. Sometimes, those questions morphed into uncomfortable public criticism. (Such is life in government service).

That’s how it’s supposed to work. Talk to the residents along West Henry Street and South Monroe Street. Rightly or wrongly, they felt their concerns were being ignored by the city. Councillors Dillon, Girbach and Mitchell have helped restore some of their trust in local government.

All three deserve re-election.

Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 734-272-6294.

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