Choices in outlook confront Rochester Hills voters

Who you vote for in this year’s Rochester Hills city election may come down to how good or bad you think things are going for the city.

Incumbent Mayor Bryan Barnett and some city-council candidates paint an upbeat picture of the city’s ability thus far to maintain services and grow jobs despite the tough economy. Barnett’s opponent, Erik Ambrozaitis, and some other council candidates say the city hasn’t tightened its belt nearly enough and is facing harder times ahead.

This is the second time Ambrozaitis and Barnett have squared off for mayor. Ambrozaitis served one term on council before being unseated. Barnett is a former councilman who has been mayor for the last five years. Not surprisingly, the two candidates see things very differently.

“Our city has been a beacon of prosperity and optimism in our area,” Barnett said at a recent forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. “That takes leadership.”

Ambrozaitis countered that the city is holding back the bad news. “We need to tell our people … how bad this all really is for our city moving forward,” he said.

Barnett’s approach has been to try to improve relationships with the business community in order to grow jobs and the tax base. He says that will continue to be his strategy if he is re-elected.

“Not too many … problems can’t be fixed with more jobs,” he said. He pointed out that the city’s fund balance, or undesignated savings, has grown despite the recession.

Ambrozaitis said the city is “artificially inflating the general-fund fund balance” in the budget document and he would cut more city spending. For example, he would outsource the job of property assessing to the county, just as he suggested the city do with its fire department dispatch service long before the city did so.

“According to our current mayor, everything is hunky dory,” Ambrozaitis said. “Over the past five years, we have all been to the best restaurant in town. … The bill has now come due.”

Barnett said the city is “ridiculously sound” financially. He noted that he and Ambrozaitis have “tremendous distinctions in leadership styles and vision.”


Newcomers Adam Kochenderfer and Laurie Puscas are vying for the District 2 seat held by J. Martin Brennan until his recent death.

Kochenderfer moved to Rochester Hills a year ago after five years in Rochester. An attorney and Oakland University and University of Michigan graduate, he has served on the Rochester Hills Green Space Advisory Board and Historic District Study Committee.

In the recent League forum, he was generally supportive of council decisions. He said he would bring his business and volunteer experience to his own decision making. His campaign Web site is

Puscas is a 22-year resident, small-business owner and mother of two. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University and Oakland University. She has served on the board of Community Media Network.

Puscas is critical of city spending. “The city must prioritize its budget as we have at home,” she said. “We can no longer afford the status quo or a like-minded city council.” Her campaign Web site is

Mayor Bryan Barnett (left) and challenger Erik Ambrozaitis.AT LARGE
In the race for two at-large seats, incumbent Michael Webber is facing challengers Kathleen Fitzgerald, Dee Hilbert and Mark Tisdel. Councilman Vern Pixley, whose term is expiring, is not running for re-election.

Fitzgerald is a real-estate professional and 34-year city resident with two children. She said she would bring balance to council and would weigh the cost of services against their importance to the community.

“I don’t want to go to city council every month and hear the same majority push through spending,” she said. “I’ll be your independent voice on city council.” Her Web site is

Hilbert is a 21-year resident who helped found Citizens Voice/Rochester Hills. A University of Phoenix graduate, she is a nurse at Beaumont Hospital and has three children.

“I have the best and longest record of any candidate,” she said, referring to her activism. She said the city could do a better job of informing residents on important issues and about cutting expenses. She said she is not being endorsed by Barnett or any council members. Her campaign Web site is

Tisdel is a 22-year resident and a graduate of Drake University. He is vice president and founding board member of Lancet Indemnity RRG and a licensed insurance agent specializing in medical liability. Generally supportive of council’s decisions, he said he’s running because Pixley decided not to.

At the recent League forum, Tisdel was the only candidate who opposed a proposed charter amendment which, if approved, would give more power to voters regarding future development of parks. He called it bad economic and public policy that would tie the city’s hands.

“We’re going to need to be creatively using every single piece of property we have,” he said. His campaign Web site is

Webber is a 22-year city resident completing his first term on council. A graduate of Adams High School and Michigan State University, he spent nine years working as an aide to several state legislators but now works as an insurance agent with Nickel & Saph, Inc. In addition to serving on various city-council committees, he is currently the council’s representative on the Rochester Older Persons Commission Governing Board and a member of council’s Police and Roads Technical Review Committee.

“I’ve worked hard to move our city forward,” he said. Though generally in the majority on council decisions, Webber said he opposed council’s decision to cut a police officer in the 2012 budget. His campaign Web site is


  1. Why is Kochendorfer’s bio online and not any of the other candidates?

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