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Your guide to Grand Haven's City Council candidates

Alex Doty • Nov 4, 2015 at 9:45 AM

This year, four people are running to fill two seats on council, each with four-year terms. Incumbent candidates Mike Fritz, 62, and John Hierholzer, 66, will square off against challengers Josh Brugger, 37, and Mike Cramer, 69.

The Tribune asked the candidates to tell us about themselves, and their thoughts and perspectives on their candidacy and the city’s direction. Here are their responses:

Josh Brugger

(1) Background:

I'm a third-generation Grand Haven resident. My grandfather was a test engineer at Gardner Denver, and my dad was a teacher and coach at Grand Haven High School. I own and run BruggerHouse Builders. My wife, Jen, and I have been married for 14 years. We feel privileged to be raising our son s — Kaiden, 9, and Caleb, 7 — who attend the award-winning Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

(2) Thoughts on city’s direction:

Grand Haven thrives as a vibrant, charming lakeshore community. It is important to me that Grand Haven maintain its unique identity and personality by placing our highest priority on the needs of our residents while charting a course into the future.

(3) Why are you running?

We need youthful energy in City Council. I believe it's time to begin including the next generation in making the decisions that will shape Grand Haven for the future. My perspective is different. Everyone who participates in local government adds value, but it's the value of the next generation that's currently missing.

(4) What challenges are on the horizon for Grand Haven?

While we benefit greatly from our national notoriety as one of America's best beach towns, we need to recognize the challenges that our local residents face throughout the year. We need to continue to fund and improve our infrastructure, but we also need to look beyond what's under the ground. We need safer ways to cross our busy streets — Beechtree, Ferry, Beacon, Sheldon and Harbor. We need to find balance between seasonal rentals and affordable housing. I'm not in favor of windmills on the lake, but we do need to start talking options as state and federal regulations begin to put pressure on our outdated power plant. We need to start looking toward the future today.

Mike Cramer

(1) Background:

After never having lived in any particular place for more than five years, in 1979 a chance meeting on an airplane circling Denver in a snowstorm led to a new job at Lear Siegler in Grand Rapids. Crossing into Michigan that year, I had a feeling of coming home, and I’ve been in West Michigan ever since. My wife was born in Grand Haven, so after our son was born, we began looking to relocate, and did so in 2002. Since then, our son has graduated GHHS and is almost finished at MSU, and we are happily into life in this town.

(2) Thoughts on city’s direction:

First and foremost, I want to say that I think that the city government is well run. I do not see any major issues that need to be solved.

When our son was starting elementary school, my wife and I very purposefully moved to Grand Haven because of its excellent schools, its small-town welcoming feeling, and its safety, which allowed our son to grow up free of hovering parents. Those are important characteristics that I would like to see reflected in our future planning.

(3) Why are you running?

I simply want to contribute in a positive way to our town. My interests revolve around the future of Grand Haven — where we want it to be headed in terms of its feel and character, as well as how we plan to deal with external influences that are likely to affect the nature of our town.

(4) What are some of the challenges and issues you see on the horizon for Grand Haven?

I see external influences such as the changing demographics in Grand Haven, I see financial and state pressures to more fully integrate with our neighboring towns, and I see a continuing push at the state level to take more decision-making out of the hands of local governments. These external influences should be thought about, discussed, and methods of dealing with them at a policy level put into our master plan to guide us in future decisions.

Mike Fritz

(1) Background:

Married to Janice, with three children: Michelle, Amanda, Patrick. Local business owner-partner of Fritz Auto Body for over 30 years with my brother, Dave. I am a lifelong resident, as were my parents and their family. I have been a volunteer for many projects, such as the boardwalk, lighthouses, Musical Fountain, coal tipple, and also did Tri-Cities Kids League for many years. I have also been on council for 12 years. My heart is in Grand Haven.

(2) Thoughts on city’s direction:

I think the direction of the city with the present council is very good. They think and study all avenues and listen very well to what everyone is saying. Streets are paved, sewers being replaced or repaired as necessary. We are very positive and work to make this a great place to live and visit. We have been No. 1 as a healthy community and rated as top five secret area to visit.

This is no longer a secret. We have been discovered. Finances look good, and we have a great fund balance and a balanced budget.

(3) Why are you running again?

The people. I enjoy listening to what they have to say — their thoughts and ideas — they help me enormously. The key here is listening. I would like to continue to represent all of Grand Haven.

Even though I have been on council for 12 years, the passion is still there. There are many things that need to done yet, such as continuing infrastructure, maintaining facilities and parks, repairing the pier and catwalk, and anything else that happens on the way. I aIso would like to see us all work together for a recreation facility for all to use that includes the YMCA and all municipalities for the greater North Ottawa area.

(4) What challenges are on the horizon for Grand Haven?

For the long term, we need to be looking at a way to get more affordable housing in our community. As we know, Grand Haven is a desirable place. With that comes higher values. We have people who work in our factories but have to live somewhere outside our community. With proper planning, we can help solve this issue. The next big thing we should all be aware of is the Sims power plant, with federal and state regulations on coal-fired plants. Coal is now on the way out and we need to be looking for alternate ways to make our plant viable in the future. It is an asset of the city and our community.

John Hierholzer

(1) Background:

I am a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities area and have been living in Grand Haven for the last 27 years. I graduated from our local high school and then attended GVSC, receiving a B.A. in English and history, with a teaching certificate. After teaching for three years, I went to WMU, where I received an M.A. in counseling. Jobs being hard to find, I worked variously as a counselor, a youth employment training program coordinator and an insurance agent. I worked as a letter carrier and clerk for 28 years at the Grand Haven post office. My last four years have been spent working for the citizens of Grand Haven as one of their elected council members.

My wife is the former Linda White Woodruff, who taught school for 30 years with the Grand Haven public school system, with most of those years at Peach Plains School. We have three married children: Matt (Renee) Hierholzer, Chandler (Maria) Woodruff and Julie (Mark) Gronevelt. We also have four grandchildren — three girls and a boy.

(2) Thoughts on city’s direction:

I think the city is headed in the right direction. The current council works well together. All members respect each other and are working for the betterment of Grand Haven. In the main things we agree:

— The city’s money must be used wisely through careful planning and the use of grants and private contributions.

— The city’s infrastructure is in constant need of repair and upgrade.

— City priorities should be grounded in public input, careful planning, and based on the greatest needs.

— Two-way communication with citizens and complete transparency.

— Oversight of all projects.

Our city has come of age. Our future is dependent on our being more welcoming and broad in our outlook. We must preserve the character and quality of our town while continuing to look for ways to increase our tax base. We must not lose sight of what makes up this unique place to live.

(3) Why are you running again?

I have just spent four years “learning the ropes” of my job. I’m proud of what we’ve done and would like another term to finish what we’ve started. My only interest in being on City Council is to represent all the citizens of Grand Haven. This is our town, not my town. My pride is only in what we can accomplish together.

(4) What challenges are on the horizon for Grand Haven?

— Increasing low-cost public housing. We only have a finite amount of space in the city and we need to use it wisely. As our citizens age, we need affordable housing for seniors. When seniors sell their homes to younger people, our neighborhoods swell as families increase in size. Workers who work in Grand Haven will be able to live in Grand Haven and contribute to its vitality.

— Becoming only a summer community. It’s a balancing act now with summer rentals. Neighborhoods are losing their cohesiveness as we drift toward becoming a one-season town. Wise planning coupled with intelligent ordinances can aid in restoring the balance.

— Increased traffic and parking needs. As we develop and redevelop areas, we need to provide better ways to get around. We need to provide central parking locations and increase public transportation. Fewer cars and trucks on the streets and the use of public transport can make a big difference in our local quality of life.

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