No one insinuated, jeered or sneered.
Following council candidate comments came the elephant in the room. But it really wasn't an elephant — it was more like an empty chair. The one next to mayoral candidate Regina Sjoberg.
Sjoberg's opponent for the mayoral seat in the Nov. 7 election, fellow City Councilwoman Rebecca Hopp, said last week she would not attend the forum, which was sponsored by the Grand Haven Area League of Women Voters. She held true to her word.
Hopp, who attended a League of Women Voters candidates forum prior to the August primary, said she would prefer to campaign on her own through “meet-and-greets” versus attending a sponsored forum at the library, which she estimated would be attended by about 75 people.
Sjoberg said she missed her opponent being present.
“It was a little more nerve-wracking because you don't have any time to think,” Sjoberg said. “While the other person is talking, you can think. I felt really honored that I got the chance to participate.”
Sjoberg said she thinks Hopp made a poor choice by not attending.
“I thought it was disappointing and I think it was a very bad choice on her part,” Sjoberg said. “This (League of Women Voters) is an exemplary organization. She said there would be only about 75 people here. I can't talk to 75 people in 45 minutes going door-to-door. ... If you want people to know where you stand on issues, you have to come out here.”
After an opening statement, Sjoberg answered all the questions from the league and audience alone.
Sjoberg described herself as a strong researcher and process-oriented individual who listens well and advocates openness and transparency. She said she favors the charter amendment on the November ballot that would allow Ferrysburg residents to decide if and when park land should be sold. She is against a 3-mill proposal that would raise funds to repair or replace Smith's Bridge, which is also on the city’s Nov. 7 ballot.
“We don't need a tax increase right now until we have all the facts,” she said.
Sjoberg said she believes short-term rentals should require inspections and licenses.
“No one wants a rave next to their home, but I don't think anyone is upset about a family renting a home,” she said. “I want to make sure the renter and owner are protected, and the City of Ferrysburg.”
One of her primary goals, she said, is maintaining Ferrysburg's small-town appeal.
“My decision-making is based on research, the voice of the people and relying on experts,” Sjoberg said.
Council candidates Mike DeWitt, Scott Blease, Richard Carlson and Ivy Barnes also discussed their visions for the city in the next decade, as well as their feelings about short-term rentals, transportation, affordable housing and infrastructure. A fifth candidate for the three seats on council, Dan Matteson, did not attend the forum.
All candidates present voiced their support of letting voters decide when and if city-owned park land should be sold. They were split on the 3-mill proposal to fund Smith's Bridge repairs.
“That was something that really put a burr in my saddle,” Carlson said. “We have a potential problem with the bridge that hasn't been truly identified.”
DeWitt, who has served on council for six years, assured residents the bridge is and will be an issue that will require some serious cash — estimated at between $8 million and $12 million.
Blease said he would like to learn more from engineers before making a decision, but “the money has to come from somewhere.”
Barnes said she's not in favor of the millage proposal. “Voting 'yes' on the bridge when we don't know the exact amounts would be premature right now,” she said.
Candidates and audience members praised League of Women Voters members for hosting the informative forum.
Terry and Deb Billman, who moved to Ferrysburg a year ago, attended the forum.
“This reinforces my decision for mayor,” Terry said. “(Sjoberg) is the only good candidate. We're very pleased with her. But council, we're not sure about yet.”
Terry said he was disappointed that Hopp opted out.
“We were a little disappointed we didn't have the other candidate here,” he said. “I certainly would have loved to hear her opinions. But I can understand why the other one didn't show up — Regina is so well-versed.”
“Her adjectives are great — accountability, transparency and research,” she said.
Marge Flahive, who has lived in Ferrysburg for almost half a century, said she thinks Hopp made a big mistake by not attending the forum. Flahive said she's also disappointed that more residents didn't attend it, given all the “hoopla” that has been happening at recent City Council meetings.
Flahive also said she thought she had decided who would win her vote for mayor.
“At least I thought I did, until I read in the paper that only one would show up (for the candidates forum),” she said. “I'm drastically disappointed that we don't have both people running for mayor being present so we can compare.”