Editor’s note: This questionnaire is the second in an eight-part series, giving readers an opportunity to learn a little more about the candidates who will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. Candidates include Josh Brugger and Bob Monetza for the mayoral post; Collin Beighley, Jamie Cooper, Ryan Cummins and (incumbent) Mike Fritz for two Grand Haven City Council seats; and Andy Cawthon and Todd Crum for a trustee position with the Board of Light & Power. Questionnaires will run alphabetically, beginning with the Oct. 18 edition and continuing through the Tribune’s Oct. 26 edition.
Name: Robert J. Monetza
Occupation: Recently retired, I was a facilities engineer at Arconic/Howmet Corp. for over 30 years.
Education: B.S. degree in engineering from Western Michigan University, associate’s degree in architectural drafting from Muskegon Business College (now Baker), graduated from Holland High School. I have also completed a variety of training programs related to engineering and public service, including earning a Master Citizen Planner certificate from MSUE and a Michigan Municipal League Level 2 certificate.
Community Involvement: Since we moved to Grand Haven in 1978, I have served roles with the city and the schools, while raising my family and making my home here. I was elected to City Council in 2009. In that role, I also serve on the Harbor Transit Board and represent Harbor Transit on the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC), the region’s MPO. From 2010 to 2016, I served on the Tri-Cities Historical Museum Board, serving as treasurer, secretary and Facilities Committee chair. I still volunteer at the museum. In 2002, I was honored at the “Night of 100 Stars,” and in 2017, I was named TCHM “Historian of the Year.”
I served three terms on the Planning Commission, including five years as chairman, leading complex meetings fairly, thoroughly, within the law and good practice, and with respect for the public. I served as chairman of the city’s Environment and Natural Resource Committee from its inception in 2002 to 2009, contributing to the city’s efforts at conservation and environmental compliance.
Since 1998, I have been working with students in the Grand Haven Area Public Schools as a coach for Odyssey of the Mind and Science Olympiad, including several trips to national tournaments; this experience has kept me in touch with the kids and what they need to be successful, as they learn and grow up. We work in the old wood shop at White Pines. It’s like having dozens of grandkids – I get to enjoy hours with them on projects, and then send them home.
What unique qualities or experiences make you a good candidate for mayor?
I spent my career as an engineer in private industry, where I was responsible for designing and implementing capital improvement projects, facilities design, directing contractor projects and leadership of a crew of UAW skilled tradesmen, and I’ve used that background in my approach to service in the public realm. I use facts and rational thinking to understand problems and reach decisions. I have been involved in training and advocacy, mainly through the Michigan Municipal League, including participation on legislative advisory committees and, on one occasion, testimony before a House committee to promote the interests of Grand Haven. I can and will balance the different and competing aspects of each issue to reach outcomes which serve the long-term benefit of the community.
What do you consider the top issues facing the city, and how would you address them?
We are at a crossroads in redevelopment of the community. There are private redevelopment projects, infill projects with public involvement, pressure on parking, and an interest in promoting affordable housing in the form of higher-density, presumably lower-cost new housing in both commercial and residential neighborhoods. As we go down this path, there must be extensive public engagement. There should be no surprises.
There are plenty of specific issues requiring our attention: the never-ending infrastructure project list; infill and redevelopment projects; retirement legacy costs; the safety and stability of neighborhoods, both residential and commercial; protection of our natural and sensitive areas; promoting of a diverse, year-round economy with good jobs and opportunities; determining the future of power generation in Grand Haven. These issues are key to carrying on the business of the city and ensuring its future.
The city is seeking a sustainable and long-term funding source for infrastructure maintenance, which, if passed by the voters, will allow us to fix and replace infrastructure without incurring new debt or higher millage. The most direct way for the city to promote high quality of life and economic opportunity is to have excellent basic services, in the form of streets, utilities, parks, public safety. The city needs to maintain healthy partnerships with the area schools, neighboring communities and regional authorities, to share costs and benefits of shared services.
What do you consider the city’s strengths and how would you build on them?
The city has a smart and engaged population and a strong business and manufacturing community with deep roots in the area. The city reflects and acts on the strength of the citizens, to provide for the public health, safety and welfare. The city builds public trust when we welcome, listen to and attempt to fairly balance the concerns and aspirations of the public in our actions.
City staff has exercised strong fiscal responsibility, and has been working hard and creatively, through public works and public safety, to make the city an excellent place to live and work. Staff has been and will continue to be encouraged and strongly supported.
What do you see for the future of Grand Haven, and how would you work with City Council to make that happen?
The city must be a place which offers opportunities for everyone and services which address the needs of its people. Demographics will change, the population will become younger and more diverse. The city must facilitate a high quality of life and sense of place for all residents, and encourage balanced economic development, excellent educational opportunities, cultural openness, year-round jobs and housing, here and in adjacent communities. In doing so, we must build on the city that we are, and resist the path of cannibalizing and destroying our historic legacies and our majestic natural places for near-term economic goals.
While Grand Haven has its own character, born in our history and culture, there must also be a capacity within the city for innovative and eclectic redevelopment, a willingness to embrace new forms and ideas. The city will not become geographically larger, and so we must be very smart about managing redevelopment. It will need to be a matter of policy to judge such changes on their merits and not just on sentiment and prejudice, nor the individual preferences of elected leaders. Where and how the form and function of the city evolves, and the extent and pace of change, will require public consensus.
Change always includes the perception of threats, and the city should not get too far ahead of the people. The role of the mayor and council will be to listen carefully to the people and help guide public acceptance of those changes that make the best public policy, vetting new ideas with the qualities and values that the people see as essential.