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Getting to know Grand Haven's mayor candidates

Alex Doty • Jul 19, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Three candidates will be vying for your vote on Aug. 8 in an effort to become Grand Haven’s mayor.

Incumbent Geri McCaleb, City Councilman Mike Fritz and Grand Haven Area Public Schools Trustee Nichol Stack are each seeking the mayor’s seat for the next two years.

The top two vote-getters in the August primary will advance to the November election, with the winner becoming mayor.

We asked each candidate a set of questions about topics related to the city. Here’s what they had to say:

Mike Fritz

Age: 54

Background: Married, three children, 14 years on council, fifth generation in Grand Haven.

Why are you running for mayor? An overwhelming amount of people have asked me to run this time. I feel I have the ability to lead and give the people a choice for mayor.

What are the five key issues you think face Grand Haven over the next five years? (1) Legacy costs: will need to try and eliminate or contain them at lower level. (2) Infrastructure: we need to continue to focus on this. Still a lot to get done. (3) Grand Landing: need to continue to make sure they get the buildout that they promised. (4) BLP: the future of the Sims plant. (5) Downtown TIF and buildout to help support it: also make sure that snowmelt with the BLP stays as promised.

What area of Grand Haven city government do you think needs most improvement, and why? I think we have a great team that works well together, from the Finance Department to public works. We are very lucky to have such good people working for us.

Why, or why not, should the city conduct a cull to manage the urban deer population within the city? What we need to do is follow the recommendations that passed. The DNR has since, the time we passed it, has revisited this with a new approach. I think it might be time for us to follow the lead of the DNR and take a look ourselves. What we are using is outdated 2008 material.

How should the city go about encouraging development in areas such as the downtown, Grand Landing and elsewhere to increase tax revenue? Encouraging infill and buildout for the downtown, keep pressure on Grand Landing to continue to buildout. Continue to redefine old structures and repurpose them.

How should the city address housing affordability within the city so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here? It is hard to try and keep housing at any level if market determines value. But what could be done, if we have a planned development, we can require that a percentage be affordable. Also keep our housing department working to help as they have been — what a great department.

How should Grand Haven manage the increased notoriety that comes with national rankings and accolades, leading to more people wanting to visit the community? By not changing anything, keep doing what we do best. People come for what we are. Friendly people, great services, great beach, just be ourselves. What a great place to live.

Geri McCaleb

Age: 70

Background: Married to John McCaleb for 35 years, with two children and two grandchildren. Born in Scheveningen, the Netherlands, in 1946; came to America in 1952; graduated from Grand Haven High School and Grand Valley State College with a degree in Earth science, minor in history. I've lived in Tennessee, Minnesota and New Jersey. Elected to City Council in 2001 and re-elected in 2005. I was first elected mayor in 2011 and have been mayor for six years.

Why you are running for mayor? I am running first of all because I love Grand Haven. Being mayor of this city and the opportunity it has afforded me, with City Council, to help shape the direction for the city has been the most gratifying thing I have ever done; and besides that, I just have a lot of fun. I'm not ready to quit. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with a great number of people, whether they are city staff, MSDDA, the chamber, the community foundation, various civic groups, interested citizens, disgruntled citizens, it’s all been a great opportunity to serve.

What are the five key issues you think face Grand Haven over the next five years? (1) The same as a lot of communities and institutions, rising insurance, and pension costs are a concern to the budget process. (2) We are still a manufacturing community and our employers are facing a shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector. I am happy to say some in our local industry are taking steps to address that problem. (3) The Downtown TIF has had to be subsidized for several years and we are always looking for development opportunities in the district to offset that shortfall. (4) We need to continue to address our citywide infrastructure needs and how to pay for them with the ever-rising costs of construction. (5) Revenue sharing from the state is always an issue, as we are not getting what was promised from the state. On the positive side, we have been fairly successful in acquiring grant funding through the state, and that is in a large part due to the fact that we have positioned ourselves well to be considered for grant funding and we have the matching funds that most grants require.

What area of Grand Haven city government do you think needs most improvement, and why? That question implies that we are lacking in a lot of ways. As I look at city departments, I see dedicated people who work hard for the city. Our community standards are high and expectations are high and our employees try hard to meet those expectations. The City Charter spells out the processes and procedures of our city, and overall I think the system works well. As a city, we are very open in sharing information. The Tribune, radio and TV news cover the city; the city website has a ton of information including where money goes, what projects the city is involved in, etc. When issues arise, the city works hard at getting citizen input, there are surveys sent out, there are public hearings, at every council meeting there are two opportunities for public comment as well as opportunity for comment on agenda items. There can be disagreements, and sometimes they are strong disagreements, but everybody gets their say and we stand by the decisions made. I sometimes get frustrated with process, but process is a safeguard against making hasty decisions. When things are not well vetted, when decisions are made in a hurry, that's when you run into problems. It’s the law of unintended consequences. I will say our Charter is dated and we need to work on updating sections of it, but we don't need a rewrite. Basically, I feel our city runs pretty well, but there's always room for improvement.

Why, or why not, should the city conduct a cull to manage the urban deer population within the city? The city should cull deer because deer have no natural predators, and without outside control they are destroying the natural balance which our forests need to be healthy and populated with a variety of animals and plants. We need secondary growth of trees in our forests to bring in that next generation of trees and undergrowth that will keep our dune environment stable and which gives cover to smaller animals that help to bring balance to our forests.

Besides the damage to our forested land and the loss of wildflowers such as trillium on our hillsides, our citizens have no defense against the deer foraging on the plantings they put on their own property. Many people have told me that they have given up having a nice garden, whether it be flowers and shrubs for enjoyment and beautification or vegetables for sustenance. The deer just come and eat everything anyway. There is a high financial cost to foraging deer. On one side is the cost to the buyer having their plantings eaten by the deer, the other is all those people who quit buying because they don't want to spend the money and do the work just to have the deer eat it.

It’s not only what the deer eat that is the problem, it’s what they leave behind. I have seen and photographed yards covered with deer feces. I have to pick up after my dog, no one is picking up after the deer. I have grandchildren. They could not play in my backyard if it was covered with deer droppings like some yards I have seen.

People have no recourse but to turn to the city for relief, and it is our responsibility to bring that relief.

How should the city go about encouraging development in areas such as the downtown, Grand Landing and elsewhere to increase tax revenue? This is a multi-faceted issue. For development you need property, you need a developer, you need a project that fits the property, and the project needs to be profitable to the developer. In order to make all that happen, we need vision and a degree of flexibility. On the other hand, we still need to be discerning as to what kind of project is fitting and good for our community. The city needs to have information for developers as to what's available, what our Master Plan and zoning regulations are. We need to know what need are we looking to fill, and we need to know what we can offer that is of mutual benefit to developer and city. It takes patience.

How should the city address housing affordability within the city so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here? This is another issue to which there are no easy answers. As a Lakeshore community, Grand Haven is a very desirable place to live. People are bidding up houses when they go on the market. Many of the people who work in our industries do not live in the city, so actually another way to address this issue is through more transportation options. Since the question is in regards to housing, a suggestion I have heard is to have move duplexes and multi-family opportunities in what are now zoned as single-family neighborhoods. If this is something the city wants to look into, it needs to be done when looking at the Master Plan. This is one of the issues we were dealing with in regards to short-term rentals. As houses were being bought up to become short-term rentals, it took these houses out of the market for individuals looking for a family home. The fact remains that Grand Haven is a very desirable place to live and that will drive up costs.

How should Grand Haven manage the increased notoriety that comes with national rankings and accolades, leading to more people wanting to visit the community? I have seen increase in busyness since May. It is good that more people want to come and see our city. In the survey we did with GVSU last year, one of the main reasons people come to Grand Haven is to relax and for family vacations. It is very gratifying to me that people want to bring their families here and I believe as we look at what we offer, we need to keep in mind the audience that we attract and want to keep coming back. We also have to think of the people who live here. This is our home and we want our home to be welcoming, but we also expect that the people who come here respect our community. Visitors who come here with their families and have a great time will come back, if we keep providing that great family experience.

Nichol Stack

Age: 39

Background: BS in mathematics from GVSU, COO Liberty Pest Control and state-certified pesticide applicator, partner at Stack Housing for affordable living, trustee for the Coast Guard Festival Inc., trustee for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

Why you are running for mayor? I am very passionate about this community. I believe that I have honed governance skills (state-certified through MASB with an Award of Merit) that could help polish the workings of our City Council. Being thoughtfully trained by another local, functioning elected board (GHAPS) allows me to bring new ideas and procedures that will give our city’s residents more access and inclusion into the issues our council faces.

What are the five key issues you think face Grand Haven over the next five years? (1) Updating aging infrastructure. (2) Urban forest management. (3) Grand Landing buildout. (4) Infill development. (5) The completion of our Waterfront Stadium reconstruction.

What area of Grand Haven city government do you think needs most improvement, and why? How the council, itself, operates and understands their role. This is the No. 1 reason I am running for mayor. I encourage every council member to remain aware of the nuance of their elected position, leaving their personal positions at home. The people empower the council, and the people have the viewpoints that matter. I believe council needs to get back to representing the entirety of their constituency versus taking so much time espousing personal opinions at public meetings. Should I be elected mayor, I would be quite proud if people couldn’t tell my personal opinion on most subjects. I, the resident, am entitled to opinions and preferences. As the mayor, I would represent the opinions of all and vote with council on behalf of citizens. When we get back to that simplicity, much more work will get done with a lot less community divisiveness.

Why, or why not, should the city conduct a cull to manage the urban deer population within the city? I cannot give a simple yea or nay response to this, as I (or anyone else for that matter) do not have enough information at this point. It is my belief that we need to make sure it is easy for residents to report issues (positive and negative) regarding deer. We need to track that data, as well as information gathered by those that care for our public lands. Between the DNR and local wildlife experts, I am confident we have the knowledge base right here in front of us to use our tracked data to make the most humane decision for the health of our herd and the well-being of our residents. That may be a cull, or it may be another measure to stabilize our herd. I must say, though, this does not need to be the divisive topic it has become as of late! I believe we all, ultimately, want the same thing: the sustainable beauty of our natural world intermingled seamlessly with our small-town life. It is essential that we stop letting our emotions lead us on this topic and let the data lead us where it may. Bottom line: I am open to all options as long as they are based on facts and not feelings.

How should the city go about encouraging development in areas such as the downtown, Grand Landing, and elsewhere to increase tax revenue? All the ways we already have been. I believe the current council, with help from organizations like GH Main Street, has kept this as a priority for quite some time. We must continue to listen to our residents and stakeholders to best execute their vision for our growth. No one person holds the answer, so I also think it’s prudent to reach out to other thriving municipalities, too, to see what they’re doing that’s working.

How should the city address housing affordability within the city so that those who work at our area businesses and manufacturers can afford to live here? This is another topic that our council continues to work exhaustively on. Government initiatives intended to create affordable living take a long time to come to fruition, so it’s easy to think nothing is being done. In actuality, many pieces are coming into place through our Neighborhood Housing Services Department. NHS provides pre-purchase education, foreclosure prevention services and grants for first-time homebuyers, and grants to repair single-family homes. I fully support these programs and would support additional measures to make sure anyone, regardless of income level, can call Grand Haven home. Further, we should also make it as easy as possible to be a landlord here. Red tape and inconsistent procedures encourage investors to look elsewhere. Long or redundant registration/regulation policies add costs and ultimately raise rents. The easier we make it, the more local folks are likely to invest versus larger companies that treat tenants like strangers. Local landlords are more likely to keep rents down, too, as they invest in their community instead of just increasing their bottom line.

How should Grand Haven manage the increased notoriety that comes with national rankings and accolades, leading to more people wanting to visit the community? We should welcome these reviews with open arms and do everything we can to keep them coming. We should mention each accolade we receive everywhere we visit, so people know who we are and what we have to offer. Eco-tourism is big business and I welcome the revenues it brings to our area. It is a fine line to walk, though: We are loved for our small-town feel, but that draw increases our population and visitors. So, I think the real question is how do we stay “small” while becoming so popular? Kindness. That’s it — pure and simple kindness. When a visitor goes the wrong way down Columbus, correct them kindly. When a neighbor is being mean, return the favor in kindness. Let’s write letters of appreciation to the editor. Let’s offer coffee to the city workers when they’re on our block. Even that gal from the no-name construction company that keeps knocking on your door at dinner time to sell you windows you don’t need — wish her the best after you nicely decline, again. I know it sounds hokey, but it works! No amount of governance makes Grand Haven great, it is the people.

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