Mayor Geri McCaleb and her challenger, City Councilman Mike Fritz, sat down for an hour to introduce themselves and answer questions from the students.
“Our goal in hosting this forum was three-fold,” Grand Haven Tribune managing editor Matt DeYoung said. “First, our high school students learn a lot about national government, and may touch on state government, but know very little about what happens in our local city government. We wanted to give them some insight into the level of government that affects their lives most directly.
“Second, we wanted to let the students feel like they were part of the election process by having a chance to meet and question the candidates running for mayor. Last, we wanted the city’s mayoral candidates to hear what concerns this younger demographic has, as the issues that resonate with these kids are much different than the issues that are important to someone in their 40s or 50s.”
McCaleb and Fritz were each given several minutes to introduce themselves to the students, who were then called to the front of the classroom to ask questions of the candidates. Kicking the discussion off was a question about why high school students should care about local government.
”I think it’s imperative that you understand how your government works and you hold your elected officials accountable that are representing you,” McCaleb said. “It’s vital that you’re involved because it’s about you.”
McCaleb said that since we live in a representative government, it is important for elected officials to hear from citizens who are affected by the decisions they make.
“It is important that you know how your city government works because it works for you,” she said.
McCaleb noted that by being involved at a young age, some of the students could one day want to get involved in local government on a larger scale.
Fritz also stressed the importance of being involved, and noted that people’s voices helped shape decisions made by City Council.
“It’s very important you stay involved and watch what’s going on in public government, because a lot of the things we do will affect you sooner or later,” he said. “Those little things could mean a big thing when it comes to you.”
Fritz also gave examples of how City Council decisions have been influenced by younger people in the community. This includes the construction of the skate park at Mulligan’s Hollow, City Council deciding to allow people to skate and bike on city streets, and even the recent student donation to the Save the Catwalk fund.
Students also pressed the two candidates about a myriad issues that are facing the city: from what to do about deer and how to manage alternative energy, to addressing what to do to make the community more diverse — a topic many students had an interest in.
Fritz said that while the community has done a good job of promoting and fostering diversity, there is still more work to be done.
“It’s a great town. Grand Haven is beautiful,” he said. “But if we look at it closer, there’s still that underlying element that we’re not hitting the marks that we need to be hitting on.”
Added Fritz: “Even though we get all these accolades saying we’re the best here and we’re the best at this, there’s still some underlying little things underneath there that we need to work at.”
Fritz also noted that he thought more could be done to teach the younger generations about diversity and inclusion.
“We need to make sure everyone is accepted,” he said.
McCaleb said she thought there is a lot of diversity in the community, and noted that it presents itself in a variety of ways, from economic to cultural diversity.
“You want people to feel welcome in your community and I think that’s very important,” she said, noting that Grand Haven is an “open door” to all kinds of people. “It’s an opportunity that people should avail themselves of,” she said of coming to the community.
McCaleb said there’s always a percentage people who are not welcoming to others.
“That’s a heart condition — people’s hearts are not always what they should be,” she said.
The League of Women Voters of the Grand Haven Area will host a Grand Haven candidates forum at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, in the lower level of Loutit District Library, 407 Columbus Ave., in Program Room A. The event will feature Fritz and McCaleb, as well as City Council candidates Bob Monetza, Dennis Scott and Andy Cawthon.