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Ferrysburg mayoral candidates face off

Marie Havenga • Aug 2, 2017 at 10:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — In less than a week, Ferrysburg voters will narrow down their mayoral candidate choices from three to two.

But judging by some responses after Tuesday night's candidates forum sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, some city residents are having a difficult time deciding.

Citizens packed Ferrysburg City Hall to listen to incumbent Mayor Dan Ruiter and councilwomen and challengers Rebecca Hopp and Regina Sjoberg answer league-initiated questions and queries from the audience. Subjects ranged from funding the upcoming Smith's Bridge repair/replacement to affordable housing and green space.

Former Grand Haven Mayor Gail Ringelberg moderated the 90-minute event.

The candidates seemed to agree on many ideas — including linking local transportation to regional communities to the north and south, coming up with a compromise for short-term rentals, saving green space, and using bonds and grants to fund the anticipated $13 million bridge repair.

The three candidates, all long-time public servants and council members, varied in the reasons residents should vote for them.

Ruiter said that after serving six years as mayor and 14 years on council, he has “proven and effective leadership.” He championed his roles in switching from the Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department to Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office protection, which is saving $100,000 a year and cutting water/sewer hookup fees for the past seven or eight years.

“Obviously, my experience and background bode well for this job of mayor and I should continue it on,” Ruiter said. “I believe the positive things I've done far outweigh anything anyone else on this panel has accomplished.”

Hopp said she was most proud of starting the Smith's Bayou Chili Cookoff 11 years ago. The fundraiser has contributed thousands of dollars to local causes, including raising $7,500 last year.

“I'm different than the other candidates because I'm a facilitator and problem solver with proven experience as a leader,” Hopp said. “I'm someone who has been and will continue to be involved with residents in our community.”

After many years of uncontested mayoral races, Sjoberg said Ferrysburg is ready for choices and change.

“We need a new attitude,” she said promising transparency, accountability and a listening ear for residents.

Sjoberg said she's most proud of conceptualizing the dog park and running the Coast Guard Picnic for four years.

“I want to give back to the community,” she said.

When asked about their leadership styles, Ruiter said he uses a scientific and analytical approach to solve problems.

Hopp described herself as a “facilitator” that brings a group from theory to results.

Sjoberg said she's a “procedure-oriented” person who relies on heavy research.

When asked about areas that need improving, Ruiter said the city website; Sjoberg said communication with citizens; and Hopp also said communication is critical, as well as fair and reasonable leadership.

Resident Richard Tourie said Tuesday was the first time he's ever attended a city meeting or candidates forum.

“It's good to hear them and see them in person, to put a face with a name,” he said.

But Tourie said the event didn't help him decide whom to vote for. He said he plans to go back and read past newspaper articles to help him make a decision.

Residents Lindsay and James Dean said they thought the candidates sounded similar in their answers.

“I hear all the same words out of people,” James said. “They all want affordable housing, but no one knew what affordable housing was. There were no huge differences in their positions. Some pay more attention than others.”

The top two vote-getters on Aug. 8 will face off in the November general election.

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