Residents in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are being asked to choose among a large field of candidates to fill seats on their city commissions this election day, Tuesday, November 3. In Bloomfield Hills, four incumbents are seeking to retain their seats while five challengers are looking to capitalize on the openings. In Birmingham, there are four open commission seats and a stable of 13 candidates.
Downtown Publications invited all candidates in the Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills races to address issues, via a questionnaire, which our editorial staff felt were important and relevant to the job of city commissioner. We have posted all of the questions and candidate responses on our website, downtownpublications.com, in order for residents of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills to read and review as they make their determinations at the polls and via absentee ballots that will be issued soon.
We offer our endorsements on this page, reached after careful deliberation on returned questionnaires, candidate conversations and editorial research.
Four long-term city commissioners, George Dilgard, Tom McDaniel, Scott Moore and Gordon Rinschler, are retiring in Birmingham, opening up four of seats on the city commission for the first time in years.
A great deal of institutional knowledge is leaving the city commission with this election, which was our main concern. We also looked for candidates who understood the process of developing public policy as an elected official, and the need to not only listen to residents but also be able to sift through public opinion and the facts of each matter and take a leadership role in making long-term decisions for the community. So our mission was several-fold.
While 13 candidates jumped into the fray this year, we were a little disappointed with what the field had to offer – four of the candidates even failed to return our repeated requests for responses to our questions, in essence removing themselves from consideration.
Of those we did receive, we were most impressed with PIERRE BOUTROS, the owner of Mills Pharmacy who is involved with NEXT (formerly Birmingham Area Senior Coordinating Council) and The Community House. Boutros has clearly studied all the issues Birmingham is confronting, and has come to sensible, well-reasoned answers, whether it is to look for public-private partnerships as a possible response to the city’s shortage on parking; looking towards improving safety and functionality for West Maple during its test phase; recognizing that the city’s bistro ordinance has been an example of “smart development”; and that Baldwin Library will need to find other avenues of private funding for its improvements. As a resident and businessman, he is one choice all residents must make.
We did have a more difficult time choosing from the “second tier” of the pack, but the three we believe who rise above the rest, and are giving our endorsement to, are, in alphabetical order, PATTY BORDMAN, STUART JEFFARES and DANIEL SHARE.
Bordman, an attorney and master gardener, would bring experience as a commissioner as the current chairperson of the city’s parks and recreation board. We were impressed with her understanding of Birmingham’s parking crisis and the city’s bistro ordinance, and that she is open to a test of West Maple Road, willing to wait until the data from the test is in to make her decision on the busy roadway. She also comprehends that Birmingham voters have spoken regarding spending on the library. Our only concern is that her orientation is as an avowed spokesperson for the parks, at the expense of other city priorities, but that will likely be tempered as she grasps the larger picture.
We feel Jeffares understands a good deal of the big picture now, as both a real estate executive and an alternate on the Birmingham Planning Board. Jeffares understands the need to solve the city’s parking crisis now as well as the financing of the parking decks. He comprehends that parking in Birmingham is paid by users, including by assessments on businesses and retailers, and not by residents, a notable error we caught in several other questionnaires. However, we would have appreciated a less confusing answer on the city charter, suggesting perhaps a lack of comprehension of the question on sale of isolated non-park city parcels. We also know he was a backer of the $21.5 million library bond millage which was defeated; if elected, we hope he will keep an open mind on issues relative to the library.
Share, an attorney, has a lengthy history of public service, including as a board member and past president of Birmingham Board of Education and Oakland Intermediate School District, and he currently sits on the Greenwood Cemetery Advisory Committee and as an alternate on the Birmingham Planning Board. Living off West Maple, he recognizes it is a dangerous street for both drivers and pedestrians, yet is open to the results of the re-striping test. Similarly, he feels a decision to increase the library millage should not be taken lightly. His answer, “The commission’s job will be to investigate, understand the big picture and the details, listen to all concerned, and decide,” reflects what we believe would be a judicial-like approach to being a commissioner, which we feel would provide balance between newer commissioners and existing city commissioners.
Following a charter amendment change in 2013, all five Bloomfield Hills City Commission seats are up for election for a two-year term on November 3. Previously, commissioners have been elected in May for two-year terms, but their terms were staggered, with elections being held every single May. This will be the first election where the entire commission will have all five seats up for election at the same time.
The four current city commissioners running for re-election, MIKE COAKLEY, MICHAEL DUL, SARAH MCCLURE, and STUART SHERR, all deserve voters returning them to their seats on the commission. While each has different areas of expertise on the commission, together they are an excellent group of citizen leaders and financial stewards for Bloomfield Hills.
Here, we were also disappointed with the field of candidates. Being a resident is not in itself a qualification. Of the two stronger candidates, we are supporting SUSAN MCCARTHY, currently a planning commissioner in Bloomfield Hills who previously served on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, although we believe she has a ways to go. While we asked a question about safety paths along Woodward, she answered that safety paths on “the city roadways...will require dramatic and irreparable changes to the character of the city.” Yet Michael Dul, a noted landscape architect, pointed out that “If there ever was a logical place for a safety path it would be Woodward Ave. as the corridor is relatively flat and unencumbered by major trees.”
McCarthy, and a couple others, quoted a “resident survey” in response to safety paths and for opting out of the SMART millage. We caution commissioners – who are city leaders – to do more than parrot back responses, but when necessary, take the leap as leaders and make the decisions for their residents that are needed, and perhaps they do not even know they need, or will want.