Q&A With Saline City Council Candidate Jim Dell'Orco

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 10/10/2019 - 00:47

Jim Dell'Orco is one of four candidates running for three seats on Saline City Council, along with incumbent Jack Ceo, Kevin Camero-Sulak and Brian Cassise.

Here is The Saline Post's Q&A with Jim Dell'Orco.

Name:  Jim Dell’Orco

Family:  Married with two daughters.  Wife, Dr. Nichole Dell’Orco, PhD, Daphne Goss, 12-year-old Saline Middle School student, Dahlia Dell’Orco, 10-year old Heritage Elementary student.

Career:  Research Scientist (electrophysiologist) at the University of Michigan Medical School, Department of Internal Medicine, Diabetes Research Center. 

Education:  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, BS, Neuroscience.

Government experience:   Regular attendance at Saline City Council meetings for the past two years. Committee work for First Presbyterian Church of Saline.

 Volunteer experience:  Saline Main Street, Cass Community Social Services of Detroit, Delonis Center and Alpha House homeless shelters of Ann Arbor, Deacon, Sunday school teacher, and Stephen Minister at First Presbyterian Church of Saline.

Why are you running? 

My impetus to run is to give back to the community of Saline.  My children have benefited tremendously from growing up in a town that is safe with excellent public schools and first-rate city services.  I want to do my part to help maintain the extraordinary quality of life that we all benefit from in a town that values its citizens.

Why should city voters elect you to council? 

In my career as a research scientist, I've been trained to evaluate and carefully analyze data from experimental outcomes. I wholeheartedly feel that this skill set would be a valuable asset in making decisions on behalf of the citizens in this community as we look at options to manage growth effectively and plan for much-needed infrastructure upgrades.  I feel it is important not to be hasty in decision making, but to investigate potential impacts thoroughly.

What are the top issues facing the city and how should the city address them?

In my estimation, the biggest challenges that face our city are a burgeoning need for infrastructure upgrades, effective and responsible growth management, and better access to affordable housing for seniors and low-income residents and families.

I hope to usher in a culture of more rigorous scrutiny of developers and consultants as we evaluate bid proposals and award contracts.  I do not support the status quo at city hall with a mind sent to consistently award the cheapest bid by default.  The process is not analogous to shopping for a car nor should it be treated as such.  All things are not created equal when it comes to the quality of work the city receives from the folks we bring on to carry out projects.  Although it is vitally important to be good stewards of the citizens hard earned tax dollars, the lowest bidder is not always the best person for the job and should be one of many variables in the myriad of things to consider when evaluating proposals—experience, reputation, references from other municipalities, and past performance being chief among them.  I feel it is also important to hold developers accountable for helping to defray the cost of adding additional infrastructure to better accommodate higher demand on utilities and roads.  The taxpayers of Saline should not be routinely on the hook for these items.  

With respect to the issue of affordable housing, I would like to see a broader initiative among all council members and other city officials to work more effectively to provide access to a more diversely represented socioeconomic demographic.  In many of my conversations with city officials, I’ve heard repeatedly that access to affordable housing in Saline is an insurmountable barrier.  Just last week the Pittsfield Township’s board of trustees were successfully able to recapture a payment in lieu of taxes program (PILOT) to promote access to affordable housing for their low-income residents and seniors.  My feeling is that if an adjacent township right here in Washtenaw County can get this done then so can Saline.  We can and should be doing more for our low-income seniors and families.

Should the city expand its borders to take on new subdivisions? Why or why not?  

I cannot state unequivocally that there’s a one size fits all approach to addressing this issue.  It’s a complicated topic with many moving parts.  I will state for the record that my personal feeling is shared with the majority of people I’ve spoken to in that we should keep Saline’s borders as they are and not allow for this type of expansion.  We are doing quite well on our own as a city without the need to absorb additional tax revenue from neighboring townships.  On the other hand, I cannot get behind standing idly by as Saline Township intends to erect a privatized wastewater treatment plant along Michigan Avenue near several residential areas.  The intractable issues with the location of our current wastewater treatment plant has afflicted a significant portion of Saline’s residents with a diminished quality of life for a quarter of a century.  Moreover, what happens when the township can no longer afford the expense of plant operations and the city of Saline is then called upon to absorb the failing infrastructure?  Simply put, I feel it is bad urban planning with a lack of foresight for the long term to allow this to move forward without pushback for a better solution for the collective benefit of everyone involved.  Despite my inherent desire to slow down the breakneck pace of houses and condos popping up in undeveloped areas, I recognize that the City of Saline council members do not have jurisdiction over the township’s developments.  I do feel, however, that as much as possible, we should attempt to work closely with neighboring townships to achieve the best possible outcomes for the area as a whole.  In summary, the City of Saline needs to closely examine this issue on a case by case basis to properly manage growth.

If elected, there will be times when you’re faced between choosing between what you know is right, and what the public wants. How will you face such a decision? 

My answer to the previous question underscores my overall approach to this dilemma.  First and foremost, I view the position of City Council as an opportunity to represent and serve the people of Saline.  With that in mind, I will come to the table with an open mind in order to hear all points of view from the side of the voters along with those of local business owners and pressures to maintain sustainably for the economic wellbeing of the area.  Finally, with respect to decision making, I will employ a diligent data-driven approach in moving the city toward an outcome that broadly benefits the greatest number of people in a positive way.  I will strive to search in favor of solutions with long term benefits over stop-gap measures whenever possible while taking note of the urgency to act along the way.   

City residents have incurred several tax increases since 2013 - at the local, school district and county levels. Have we hit the limit yet? Are there circumstances that might warrant further increases? 

It’s impossible to predict what lies ahead for us in the future.  What I can say is that the voters will have a say in the matter as many of the proposals requesting additional tax dollars would appear on the ballot as the majority of them require support from the public to take effect.  As I mentioned previously, infrastructure upgrades to a growing community like Saline cannot and should not be avoided, but the cost should not be absorbed completely by local taxpayers.  I feel that raising taxes should be a method of last resort.  If Council members can find room in the current budget to make this possible, I will support allocating funds for said cause.

Should council allow recreational marijuana dispensaries in the city? Why or why not? Should council allow medical marijuana dispensaries? Why or why not?

(On recreational marijuana dispensaries) Not at this time.  I support the prevailing opinion held by current city council members in so far as that there are too many unknowns in how the language of Proposal 1, passed in 2018, was crafted.  I feel it is wise to suspend rendering a verdict on this for three reasons.  First, it gives us a chance to see how this plays out in other municipalities before allowing this type of business to set up shop here in Saline. Second, currently the State of Michigan has yet to establish an appropriate oversight and regulatory framework for the licensing procedures of recreational marijuana sales.  Last, to my knowledge there is no clear way to quantify the economic benefit that we would gain as a municipality in allowing this type of business in our City.  In other words, what portion of the 10% tax outlined in Prop 1 would we actually collect?  To date, I’ve not been able to determine hard numbers on this.

All this being said, I am not one to stand in the way of what the voters of this community would like to see.  In 2018, the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the State of Michigan passed in part by 67.73% of the voters in Washtenaw county saying yes.  I firmly believe in the sanctity of elections.  If we can determine through quantifiable measures that there is overwhelming support for the sale of recreational marijuana in the city of Saline, I will not say no to a motion to approve. My sense is, however, from talking to residents, that this is not the case.

On a personal note, I voted yes on Proposal 1 exclusively for the overwhelming benefit of the decriminalization of marijuana in addressing disparities in the criminal justice system.  If a young man or woman gets a criminal record for possession of marijuana it could impact their ability to qualify for financial aid, get into college or even find a job down the road.  Too many lives are being destroyed by pot policy. I will not support any effort by the Mayor or City Council to grant the Saline Police Department the authority to make this an arrestable offence by way of being charged with a misdemeanor.  Our young people will make mistakes as they negotiate the landscape of their adolescence and to saddle them with potentially life altering consequences for smoking pot, in my book, is unjust and unnecessary.

(On medical marijuana dispensaries) Again, I will defer to the public on this issue.  The city of Saline will host a public forum on medical marijuana at 7:00 PM on October 10th at Saline City Hall.  I encourage anyone interested in this topic to attend.  Unlike recreational marijuana, The State of Michigan has established oversight and the appropriate regulatory framework for medical marijuana.  There are a wide range of medical conditions for which there is good data to support a positive outcome for patients being treated with CBD and medical marijuana.  The most common use for medical marijuana in the United States is for pain control.  It is quite effective for chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age.  It is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive).  For cancer patients, it can sometimes be the only avenue of reprieve.  All this being said, there is either support for this in our community or there is not.  I will let the voters decide and faithfully represent their voice at the council table accordingly.

City council debate on Andelina Farms issues and strategy has generally not taken place in front of the public. Do you think key public policy and strategic decisions should take place in public, for the record? Why or why not? 

Public policy and strategic decisions should take place on the record and in public whenever possible.  Although I recognize there are circumstances where sensitive legal matters and staff contract negotiations need to take place in a closed session format, I question the degree to which the recent trend and increased frequency in use of the closed session format is truly warranted.  The taxpayers deserve the right to be informed of the decisions their elected officials are making on their behalf.  Although I realize the Andelina Farms issue has been particularly fraught with deliberations involving legal staff, I think the public deserves more than the occasional Saline Post Facebook update from the mayor after decisions have already been made.

Saline is a desirable place to live and can be a great place to do business. Should city council bend its zoning ordinance or use tax incentives to entice development and attract business? 

I will emphasize the importance and relevance of the City of Saline’s master plan.  I am not in support of zoning away from the city’s master plan whenever a developer approaches us with a plan where they ask for concessions to move their projects forward.  This sets up a dangerous precedent for city officials that could potentially lead to expensive lawsuits for the taxpayers if at some point a subsequent developer decides to sue the city citing concessions that were made on previous occasions.  If the city is going to change the zoning ordinances, we must update the city’s master plan to reflect that.  As far as tax incentives go, I feel that is another situation that involves consideration on a case by case basis and only when there is public support to do so should it be granted.  

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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