Mayoral candidate opts out of candidates forum

Marie Havenga • Oct 12, 2017 at 10:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — The Grand Haven Area League of Women voters is hosting a Ferrysburg council and mayoral candidates forum next week at Spring Lake District Library, but one of the candidates won’t be attending it.

Rebecca Hopp, who is facing off against fellow Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg for the mayor's seat in the Nov. 7 election, said she will not be at the Oct. 17 forum. Hopp said it was the library that contacted her about the forum.

“I didn't know who was doing this,” said Hopp, adding that she went to the League of Women Voters’ website and found nothing posted about the event.

Hopp said she called the library on Oct. 4 to let them know she would not be attending the forum.

Christine Baker, president of the local League of Women Voters, said Lisa Donner, community services librarian for Spring Lake District Library, contacted the candidates on behalf of the league.

Hopp took exception to not being given any options.

“In July, we were given a couple of dates and times that would work,” Hopp said of a candidates forum prior to the August primary, which was also sponsored by the local League of Women Voters. “I wasn't given any options (this time). I felt that it was unfair that I was being told where and when to show up.

“The reason I'm not doing this is I feel it was unfairly scheduled,” she explained. “They did not take into consideration anyone else's schedule.”

Hopp also said Ferrysburg is in the Loutit District Library’s district, and Ferrysburg residents pay a millage to support the Grand Haven library.

“Since our millage goes to Loutit Library, why wasn't the league hosting it there?” she asked.

Baker said the non-partisan League of Women Voters already had scheduled the Grand Haven candidates forum at Loutit, although on a different day, and has had great success working with Donner and the Spring Lake library in the past.

“We all pay taxes to support our libraries,” said Baker, a Grand Haven resident.

Hopp said another reason she is skipping the forum is because she prefers to spend her time campaigning in these final weeks leading up to the election.

“I'm spending my time doing meet-and-greets,” she said. “I feel that reaches more people than a forum scheduled in the evening. That's the choice I'm making because of my (full-time work) schedule. I have a much greater response with a wider range of residents than I would have at the library. There were probably only about 75 people in that room (for the primary forum). I have met and reached out to 75 percent of the Ferrysburg population (2,900).”

Hopp said it's simply a matter of setting priorities.

“With my limited time outside of work, I need to focus on what's more conducive to a successful campaign,” she said. “This is how I choose to run my campaign. My camp, we remain centered and on task. I will not lower my standards.”

Baker, who will moderate Tuesday's event, said it’s unusual for a candidate to opt out of a forum, unless there's a conflict with another obligation.

“It's happened over the years where somebody just can't make it on the date we chose, but it's pretty rare,” she said. “I guess it's her choice to do that, but I'm disappointed. I wish she would reconsider.”

Besides Sjoberg, who said she paid $250 to reschedule a flight to Minnesota to visit her sister so that she could attend the forum, City Council candidates Scott Blease, Ivy Barnes and Richard Carlson have all confirmed that they will be attending, Baker said.

Council candidate Dan Matteson and incumbent Councilman Mike Dewitt have not yet confirmed, according to Baker. DeWitt told the Tribune he is trying to reschedule a work meeting so that he can attend.

“I let Rebecca know we are going to move forward with a mayoral forum without her,” Baker said. “We want to continue on as planned.”

All mayoral questions will go to Sjoberg, who will have two minutes to respond. Audience members will also have the opportunity to turn in questions that the moderator will read.

Baker said forums are typically well-attended, and that people appreciate hearing what candidates have to say and what their positions are before casting their votes.

“To have an informed electorate is very important,” she said.

Sjoberg said she's disappointed audience members won't have anyone to compare her responses to.

“It's disappointing to me because I think people need to know where people stand on issues,” she said. “I'm excited to do it. I do have opinions on the issues and I'm willing to speak about them. I would think it would look very bad not to show up.”

Hopp later provided the Tribune with the following statement:

“I appreciate the opportunity offered by the League of Women Voters to take part in their candidate forum scheduled for Oct. 17. Unfortunately, I have a previously scheduled engagement on the only date provided by the league and will not be available to participate. I was happy to participate in the recent forum held by the league in the primary election where I and the other candidates for this position answered questions from the league and also the audience.

“I have been engaging with the residents of Ferrysburg with meet-and-greets to share my vision for our community. As a current City Council member, I have always had an open-door policy and am available to listen to the thoughts and concerns of our residents. That will not change when elected mayor. Because I am not available for this candidate forum, I encourage any Ferrysburg resident to contact me directly at [email protected] so I may respond to their questions. While I am disappointed that this event date will not work for me, I am excited to have the opportunity to speak with our great residents.”

The forum on Tuesday, Oct. 17, will begin at 6 p.m. The Spring Lake library is located at 123 E. Exchange St.

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