The candidates — incumbent Mayor Geri McCaleb, City Councilman Mike Fritz and Grand Haven Area Public Schools Trustee Nichol Stack — took part in a League of Women Voters forum at Loutit District Library.
Candidates laid out to city residents why they should be the one to serve as mayor for the next two years. Two of the three candidates will advance to the November general election, with the winner becoming mayor.
McCaleb, who has been mayor for the past six years, said she is seeking another term in part because she’s enjoyed her time in office.
“It’s great because this is a great community with great people,” she said. “They want to see things done well, and they have high expectations.”
McCaleb said she wants to continue to see projects through that began under her watch, such as the Waterfront Stadium renovation project, the catwalk replacement and the pier reconstruction project.
“I’m the only candidate running for mayor who has on-the-job experience,” she said. “And I do love this job, as I love this city.”
Fritz said he has been encouraged from residents who’ve told him he should run for mayor after serving on City Council the past 14 years, eight of which have been as mayor pro-tem.
“I’ve finally decided it’s time to step forward and take charge a little bit,” he said.
Fritz also noted that being a lifelong resident serves him well.
“I feel you need to know what your past is so you can make good decisions … for the future,” he said. “I feel like I’ve represented all of Grand Haven, and will continue to do so.”
Stack said she is thankful to be a part of the community of Grand Haven, and looks forward to the possibility of becoming mayor.
“I would really like to serve the community in an even greater capacity than I already do,” she said.
Most recently, Stack was elected and re-elected to the Grand Haven school board.
“I love doing that, I’ve learned so much,” she said. “Through that service, I’ve taken hours and hours of classes and become a state-certified board member with the MASB with an Award of Merit.”
Stack noted that there aren’t any specific agendas, projects or special interests that are driving her campaign.
“We need to be stewards of the people to make sure the staff is doing the best of their ability,” she said.
In addition to laying out why they want the position, candidates answered questions from both the League of Women Voters and from the audience, with topics covering a range of issues. Several of the topics covered recent hot-button issues, such as urban deer management and Lansing’s control over short-term rentals.
Managing the urban deer population
McCaleb said she supports the idea.
“I’m greatly concerned that our fragile dune environment is threatened by the unbalance we see in our forest,” she said. “Today, we’ve favored the deer herd versus having healthy and diverse flora and fauna activity in our city parks and woodlands.”
She also thought there would be economic benefit from the cull, as well, helping local plant and garden shops that have been impacted by an overabundance of deer due to damage to people’s lawns and gardens.
Fritz had a different tone on the topic of deer management.
“We need to follow what policy we’ve set and follow that accordingly,” he said.
Fritz said he remembers when the city had a committee made up of people who were on both sides of the issue that developed policies and procedures to be followed regarding deer management. He said this plan should be followed accordingly before proceeding with a cull, or the city should just not have it.
Stack said she didn’t think the city had enough information to determine if there should or should’t be a cull.
“I want to make sure we go through all of the steps before we take lethal action,” she said, noting that there are steps that can be taken aside from culling to control the population.
On the topic of what role the state should have, if any, in determining local policy such as short-term rental regulations, McCaleb said it is essential the city keeps local control on such issues. She said the city spent a year discussing it in order to come up with its own rules.
“We are the elected representatives of the people of Grand Haven,” she said. “We listen to our citizens.”
McCaleb said she is concerned that Lansing officials wouldn’t know what’s best for each community, and wouldn’t be able to hear the concerns of residents as well as local government does.
Fritz said he is also concerned about state lawmakers making decisions that could take away home rule control.
“We don’t need someone from Lansing telling us what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “They don’t give us anything to help us out, but they take more away from us.”
Fritz said the city was fortunate to host a recent meeting with Lakeshore communities and state lawmakers to express concerns about the state taking away local control over short-term rental regulations.
Stack noted that she is familiar with dealing with similar issues in her time with the Grand Haven school board, and each community is unique and should be given the ability to make decisions based on that. She said it is important for the mayor and City Council to have dialogue with representatives and communicate with lawmakers about concerns so that local communities can continue to have local control.
“I think the only way to achieve that is to maintain a good relationship with Lansing,” she said.
Ferrrysburg mayoral forum scheduled
The Grand Haven League of Women Voters will host a forum for Ferrysburg’s mayoral candidates at 7 pm. Tuesday, Aug. 1, at Ferrysburg City Hall, 17290 Roosevelt Road.
All three candidates — incumbent Mayor Dan Ruiter and city councilwomen Rebecca Hopp and Regina Sjoberg — have agreed to attend.
League officials say the event will follow the same format as Grand Haven's forum.
Like Grand Haven’s primary election, the top two vote-getters in Ferrysburg’s Aug. 8 mayoral primary will face off against each other in the Nov. 7 general election.