Two Grand Haven city councilmen unseated the incumbent mayor in this week’s primary, and will now go head-to-head in the Nov. 5 city election.
Josh Brugger gathered more than 40 percent of the vote in Tuesday night’s unofficial tally, while Bob Monetza edged Mayor Geri McCaleb by 28 votes. The four-term mayor will leave office in January 2020 after holding the title since 2011 and serving on the council since 2001.
Monetza was elected to his first four-year term in 2009, while Brugger is at the end of his first term. If Monetza is not elected mayor, he will return to his council seat to serve the remaining two years of his current term. As Brugger opened his seat to enter the mayoral race, he will either become mayor or be off the council.
Monetza, 65, said he did not know what to expect when he entered City Hall on Tuesday night, but was pleased to find he had reached his goal of making it past the primary. The candidate has thus far self-funded his campaign, and he aims to continue doing so while increasing the legwork for the next stretch. The retired engineer said his strategy is to meet personally with voters to explain his experience, views and policies.
“Sometimes people take things out of context or don’t read stuff that’s out there,” Monetza said. “I prefer personal, getting the opportunity to explain yourself and what’s going on.”
Monetza lamented that the voter turnout was not higher for the primary.
Monetza said McCaleb has done a lot of good things for the city despite disagreements on a range of issues.
“A lot of communities have term limits, but the voters will tell you when your term is up,” he said Wednesday. “That’s what happened (Tuesday) night.”
Brugger, 41, is the youngest council member. He has advocated for term limits for elected city positions, which he said could cut officials off at three consecutive terms or five lifetime terms.
The local building contractor’s campaign has faced controversy in the weeks leading up to the primary. Three fliers were sent to Grand Haven residents asking them to “thank” the councilman for his leadership, paid for by the West Michigan Community Preservation Fund, a political action committee with anonymous donors. Brugger said he had nothing to do with the mailers, which included a flier praising his support for medical marijuana.
“Given the challenges that our campaign faced, I was very excited and grateful to see the numbers on the board when we first walked in,” he said of his arrival Tuesday night at City Hall. “I believe it’s telling of a community that is ready for some change and fresh leadership in the city.”
Brugger said his top issue is reducing the city’s debt, which he said could hit zero by 2035 with proper planning.
All current council members, including the two mayoral candidates, support a perpetual infrastructure millage that will appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the proposed 3 mills would be applied as existing mills are taken off the tax rolls, and would not represent a tax increase for residents.
Monetza said the millage would provide a permanent funding mechanism for projects that are already costing the city rapidly inflating construction costs, such as the rebuild of North Shore Drive. He said handling the city’s legacy costs is a priority.
The mayoral candidates have often aligned on council actions, such as their recent support for capping residential groundwater wells in two plumes of vinyl chloride, a carcinogen that state health officials warned could cause exposure risks if used by residents for sprinkling.
The councilmen have also had disagreements.
At Monday night’s council meeting, Monetza criticized a deer management idea proposed by Brugger, calling it a “cynical ploy, never intended to be taken seriously.”
At a meeting last month, Brugger slapped thick binders on the table in front of the council, which contained a deer management plan for a national park. He said the plan helped him develop a scaled-down “compromise” on deer management in the city, which would entail lethal and nonlethal means of containing the city’s deer herd.
Monetza called the proposed population threshold of 15 deer a “pretty ridiculous target” considering the greater number of deer that move nightly in and out of town.
“Maybe we will have to build a border wall to keep the township deer out,” he said.
Brugger said the plea was not timed as an election tactic.
“I was hoping for a compromise to be part of a discussion on the agenda,” he said. “Based on the comments shared by Councilman Monetza at last Monday’s meeting, that’s not going to happen. I’d like to find the middle ground, but it doesn’t appear that there’s a middle ground to be found.”
Brugger has also sought the “middle ground” on the issue of marijuana access. Mayor McCaleb and Councilman Dennis Scott have opposed all forms of marijuana establishments, while councilmen Mike Fritz and Monetza have voiced support for a medical ordinance and for listening to voters, who supported recreational legalization last November. Brugger straddles the line, supporting a medical ordinance but opposing recreational businesses.
Brugger said he hopes for a “clean” campaign in the general election. Monetza said he and his fellow councilman share a lot of common ground.