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Meet Ferrysburg's mayor candidates

Tribune Staff • Jul 22, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Ferrysburg voters will be asked to choose between three candidates for mayor in the Aug. 8 primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the November ballot.

Incumbent Mayor Dan Ruiter is being challenged by councilwomen Rebecca Hopp and Regina Sjoberg. 

We asked each of the candidates to fill out a questionnaire in order to let prospective voters get to know them. The candidates are listed below in alphabetical order.

Name: Rebecca Hopp

Age: 53 

Background: I am a lifetime resident of West Michigan. I have been married to my amazing husband for 32 years and we have one daughter who we are so proud of her professional successes. I graduated from Grand Valley State University with degrees in education and sports medicine, certified reality therapist, and hold a certification for non-profit boards. I have been employed by Michigan public schools for over 17 years with experiences in alternative education/outward bound, special education, and taught GED coursework. I'm so proud to be able to educate America's next generation of leaders.

I began my community involvement in 2006 as co-founder/co-chairperson of the Smith's Bayou Chili Cookoff. Our chili cookoff has raised thousands of dollars for local, non-profit agencies who support the needs of our residents in the Tri-Cities area. In 2009, I was a write-in candidate and earned my seat on council and am currently serving as mayor pro-tem. Over the past eight years, I have volunteered in many different capacities in the Tri-Cities; serving Ferryburg's Fourth of July Mayor's Breakfast, Feeding America food distribution, serving the annual Marine Corps breakfast each November, spreading bark on the trails in KLH Dunes, and painted the front porch roof at City Hall. I currently serve on several boards and commissions: Ferrysburg Board of Review, Ferrysburg Recreation Commission, Tri-Cities Historical Museum, Four Pointes Council of the Aging, secretary for Ottawa County Land Bank Authority, president of Michigan Women in Municipal Government, president/vice president Elected Official Academy, presented at elected official trainings, and past board trustee for Michigan Municipal League. In March 2017, I became the seventh elected official in the state of Michigan to receive the Ambassador Leadership award.

Why are you running for mayor? 

As mayor pro-tem, and serving on numerous local boards, and I have been encouraged by many individuals to seek the mayoral position for the city of Ferrysburg. Ferrysburg's residents, business owners and visitors to the city deserve a person who is a proven leader, engaged with the community, and has created workable relationships where everyone's voice and concerns are heard and respected. By creating open dialogue, listening to and respecting all interests is critical to Ferrysburg's future.

What are five key issues you think face Ferrysburg over the next five years?

1. The aging infrastructure of Ferrysburg is a concern for the city as lift stations need replacing and road improvements continue to be assessed.

2. Our infrastructure expenditures also will include assisting with the replacement of the sewer force main which runs under the Grand River to the sewage plant. This replacement has a cost of $6 million to $8 million. However, this cost will be shared by each of the contributing communities.

3. The replacement of Smith's Bridge will be a large financial challenge for Ferrysburg. Currently, council is exploring all options available to seek additional funding to assist with this cost. Smith's Bridge is a critical thoroughfare for our residents who reside at that side of the city, fire and medical services, as well as area school buses.

4. Short-term rentals/lease is a concern for many residents and property owners. The Planning Commission is diligently working with property owners and residents with the goal of reaching a workable manageable agreement. The Planning Commission would like to be able to present their findings to council in late fall. It is my hope that council will appreciate the dedication and commitment by the planning commissioners to ensure a fairness for all stakeholders.

5. Another area of improvement is our communication with Ferryburg's residents by making our website and Facebook page more user friendly. We must also include our citizens who may not use or have access to a computer by providing them with our Shoreline newsletter and other pertinent information available by mail and having the materials available at City Hall.

How should the city go about encouraging development to increase tax revenue?

The city continues to encourage development by working with the citizens who are completing home improvements projects, remodeling and rebuilding their homes, and building new homes/condos. These residential improvements are providing the city with additional tax revenue, which results in a stronger and financially healthy community.

What area of Ferrysburg city government do you think needs most improvement and why?

Better communication and access to our city's website to improve informational flow and easier navigational process through our city's website. However, we need to continue to support our residents who may not have access or choose not to utilize a computer. Our goal needs to be to have information accessible to residents with all abilities.

How should the city address housing affordability within Ferrysburg so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here?

Serving on the Ottawa County Housing Coalition Board, as well as Ottawa County Land Bank Authority Board, I am well abreast of the housing challenges facing this regional area. By working with Neighborhood Housing Services, Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army, these dedicated, hard-working individuals are striving to meet this growing challenge.

Anything else you would like to add?

If elected mayor, it would be an honor and privilege to continue to serve and represent the City of Ferrysburg as the true gem of the Tri-Cities.

Name: Daniel S. Ruiter

Age: 67

Background: Over 13 years serving on City Council; over five years serving as mayor; proven, effective leadership/experience; retired IT professional (project manager, customer relations software manager). Past accomplishments: spearheaded the conversion from the local police department to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department resulting in eliminating a $625,000 pension shortfall; Ferrysburg City Planning Commission; Northwest Ottawa County Economic Development Task Force; Ferrysburg Downtown Development Task Force; Collaborative IT infrastructure upgrade with Ottawa County, saving thousands; Northwest Ottawa Recreation Authority; spearheaded the Community Garden located at City Hall; spearheaded the Trash to Treasure Days. Personal: conservative values; married to Jayne Ruiter for 47 years; one daughter, Kelly, school teacher in New York City, two grandsons, ages 1 and 4; Ferrysburg resident for over 20 years; committed to supporting the community. Experience and education: graduated cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, B.S./B.A.; Grand Rapids East Christian High School; served in the U.S. Army for six years during the Vietnam era (1968-74); project management professional (PMP) certification; Michigan Association of Mayors. Involved in the community: member, Ferrysburg Community Church; Executive Board member, Friends of Grand Haven State Park; Salvation Army Capital Campaign; Advisory Board, Positive Options; Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce; Mayor's Breakfast, on July 4 every year. City goals: balanced budget; represent the interests of all citizens with fair, equitable resolutions to the important issues we face today; high levels of safety and security; keeping local streets in good repair.

Why you are running for mayor? 

Provide the city residents with my proven leadership and experience skills in managing an over $4 million enterprise.

What are the five key issues you think face Ferrysburg over the next five years?

1. Smith's bridge: Current inspections expose serious issues with the bridge that will require repair or replacement.

2. Local street conditions.

3. Effective leadership considering two senior council members are term limited and will not return after November.

4. Control expenses.

5. Doing everything possible to be able to finance future expenses without selling city assets.

6. High levels of safety and security. 

What area of Ferrysburg city government do you think needs most improvement, and why?  

I believe our city manager has been stellar in managing day-to-day issues and events, and we are not lacking in any specific area 

How should the city go about encouraging development to increase tax revenue?

Being a bedroom community without a lot of vacant land, our options for development of commercial and residential development are limited. When the sand mine property is sold at some point in time, we will be able to visualize and guide that development with intense planning.  

How should the city address housing affordability within Ferrysburg so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here?

We currently partner with various agencies that are available to assist in resolving these issues for our citizens.  

Anything else you would like to add?

The city really needs someone who is a negotiator, analytical, intelligent, and willing to openly express ideas and possible solutions. The skills needed for this is learned from experience and not taught in a classroom or acquired from outside lobbying groups. 

Name: Regina Sjoberg

Age: 67

Background: I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and hold master degrees from Indiana University in both education and library science. I moved to this area in 1989, and have lived in Ferrysburg for over 21 years. I am now lucky enough to be retired. Previously, I taught school for 10 years, worked as a state-certified reference librarian for 10 years, and then entered the public relations/communications field. I also was privileged enough to be able to stay at home with my children for 10 years. My husband, Pete, and I are parents to three adult children, and grandparents to five.

I have been a council member since 2008, and have served on many charitable and community boards. I was president of the Board of the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics when that school moved to Ferrysburg, and have also served on the Ottawa County Community Action Agency Advisory Board. I conceptualized and implemented the city’s Dog Park and Youth Council. Other board participation includes the City of Ferrysburg’s ZBA and Planning Commission, the County Ambulance Oversight Committee, and the Deer Advisory Board. I have been president of the Parkwood Village Condo Association Board, served on the board of the West Michigan American Heart Association as communications chair, and served on the Tri-Cities Mental Health Task Force in order to support a recent millage effort. I have served as social chair for the Spring Lake Yacht Club, and now volunteer at the Muskegon Museum of Art on the Festival of Trees and Gala committees, and also at St. Pat’s Food Bank. 

Why are you running for mayor?

I am running for mayor because people have asked me to. People in Ferrysburg want change, and three new council candidates have stepped up to the plate to facilitate that change. They are new to politics in this city — although they all have considerable experience in other locations — and have asked me to lead them through the next two years. I would like to return Ferrysburg to the kind of leadership exhibited by Ray Tejchma, Barb Johnson and Jeff Stille — accountable, responsive, transparent government. I am also a strong supporter of the Save the Parks movement, and have joined in the effort to amend our Charter so that only the people can decide to sell a park. The Save the Parks movement leaders have developed a trust in me, and I must accept the mantle of leadership they have asked me to assume.

What are the five key issues you think Ferrysburg will face over the next five years?

1. Maintenance of greenspace is key to the health and welfare of a community. This is especially true for our children and their future children. Once greenspace is gone, it’s gone forever. There really isn’t much land left for development in Ferrysburg, so tax revenue from increased housing development will be difficult. Short-sighted people might push for the development of parks and nature preserves, and we will need to develop innovative ways to create affordable housing while maintaining our greenspace.

2. The Smith’s Bayou bridge is going to need either repair or replacement — we won’t know which for a couple of months. We therefore do not know how much this project will cost. We will need to secure information and then develop a plan to finance work on the bridge. All the financial advisors with whom I have spoken say bonding is the only way we can handle this project. We can bond up to $20 million. We can start putting money aside for the financing of the bonds, and we will also seek grants. Our engineer has strongly suggested that we look into some kind of philanthropic support. In fact, she said this was key when applying for grants. She also suggested a bridge design that includes a “total street” approach — which means including a bike path as part of the project. This will open up additional funding streams for us.

3. I believe technology will be an issue in coming years. We need to update the ways in which we communicate with citizens. People expect and demand instant replies to questions and concerns. The use of social media can assure both responsiveness and transparency in city government. We should stream all council meetings on Facebook, and use Twitter, email and other social media to make sure that citizens get the answers they need. Luckily, the use of social media is not really expensive, but some kind of staff management might be required. We can also cut costs and waste less staff time if we put council packet documents online and stop making hundreds of copies of security reports, police updates and other information that is currently printed and delivered to us as hardcopies. Council members could just access a secure site and forget about all that paper! It’s a matter of a sea change in attitude and practice.

4.  Meeting the needs of a diverse population is going to be an issue we need to address in future. Seniors, people with physical and cognitive disabilities, the economically challenged, children — all are going to have needs that must be addressed in one way or the other by the city. For instance, assuring a mass transportation option for those who cannot drive will be crucial. Offering affordable housing for all people will be important, as will supporting a strong school system. Keeping taxes and water/sewer fees at a level that is affordable for those on a fixed income will be important. 

5. The issue above means that we might have to prioritize city services in order to maintain a strong budget. We will need to work closely with citizens in order to ascertain just what is important to them.

What area of city government do you think needs the most improvement, and why?

I think we most need improvement in communication with our constituents. Currently, people cannot comment on the city’s Facebook page. Today’s citizens want to ask questions and make comments, and they want quick responses to same. Facebook is an excellent way to accomplish this. We also need to be more responsive to people who email us or make comments during our council meetings. People have the right to ask questions and they expect straight answers. We can easily stream our council meetings to Facebook. This is a wonderful way to keep people informed about what is going on in Ferrysburg, and how it is going on. If we are transparent and responsive, people will want to get involved in city government. We always have open board and commission seats, and we need that involvement. Openly showing how our government operates is going to garner enthusiasm for the government, and thus involvement.

How should the city go about encouraging development to increase tax revenue?

I am opposed to the city getting directly involved in development projects. There have been some problematic examples of this in recent years. Based on my research, here is how I think we can address this issue:

1. Identify the assets that offer the best opportunities for growth and develop strategies to support them. In Ferrysburg, these might include natural beauty and outdoor resources, as well as proximity to larger cities and cultural opportunities.

2. Ask residents, business owners and other stakeholders to develop a vision for the community’s future. Public engagement helps ensure that plans reflect the community’s needs and generates public support.

3. Seek outside funding. Outside funding can help increase local interest and commitment, and encourage private investment.

4. Create incentives for redevelopment; i.e., brownfield redevelopment authorities and tax abatement programs.

5. Encourage cooperation within the community and across the region. We have done that in Ferrysburg on several occasions; for instance, the joint recreation plan recently developed for the Tri-Cities area.

6. Support a clean and healthy environment. Invest in natural assets by protecting natural resources and cleaning up and redeveloping polluted properties. This increases the tax base and employment opportunities, removes environmental contamination, and helps encourage investment.

How should the city address housing affordability within Ferrysburg so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here?

In some areas of the country, homeowners are paying about one-third of their income for housing. Renters pay an even higher percentage. Ferrysburg has a huge diversity in home costs — from mobile homes to lakefront mansions. Experts agree that supply is everything, but our small town really does not have a lot of land left to devote to housing. We will have to get creative in order to provide affordable housing that is close to area employers. Townhouses, duplexes and courtyard apartments provide more affordable housing options than do single-family dwellings. Zoning ordinances can be reviewed and changed so that these options are viable choices for people seeking housing. We might consider reducing minimum lot sizes and relaxing density restrictions in single-family home areas.

Anything that makes the building process more difficult makes it more expensive. We need a clear set of regulations for builders rather than a process full of inconsistent and multiple revisions that make it difficult for the builder to operate efficiently. The cost of that inefficiency will be passed on to the buyers. I have heard many an exasperated homeowner talk about how the licensing and inspecting process in Ferrysburg is costly in both time and money. We need to simplify if we want people to build here.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am a process person. I like a very clearly defined process to be followed when making decisions, and I like consistency in action. As a research librarian, I believe doing one’s “homework” will ensure a smooth process and successful projects. I think accountability is key to ethical public service. Above all, I hope to listen to the people and bring our city leaders together to work for the betterment of Ferrysburg. 

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