League of Women Voters Debate Recap for Rochester Hills

Two men who would like to be mayor of Rochester Hills attacked Mayor Bryan Barnett’s record Wednesday during a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Erik Ambrozaitis, Paul Miller and high-school student Luke Wylie are challenging Barnett in the Aug. 2 primary. Wylie did not participate in the forum. Ambrozaitis, a former city councilman, and Miller, who ran for council once before, went after Barnett on everything from his benefit package to unemployment, development, historic preservation and spending.
Ambrozaitis, a real-estate agent and one-term councilman who ran against Barnett four years ago, repeated his belief that Barnett engages in “slate politics,” which Ambrozaitis said is bad for the city. He also pointed to his own record as a councilman.
“Every vote I made on city council, I was the most fiscally conservative,” he said.
Miller, a small-business owner, painted Barnett as the status-quo candidate the city can no longer afford.
“Increased need for citizen participation has become obvious and essential,” Miller said. “The old rules of business as usual and status quo no longer work. Indeed … they threaten the very assets we can least afford to lose. We must have real leadership.”
As the incumbent, Barnett was ready for them. “What you’re hearing my opponents do is explain away great things,” he said. “If that’s the position they want to take, there’s a small minority of people out there that may agree with them.”
Questions were posed from the audience. A question about the city’s fiscal health highlighted the three men’s differing points of view.
“I think we’ve done some things proactively. Since I became mayor, I introduced the first two-year budget,” Barnett said. “We’re doing seven-year forecasting. … Being prepared certainly puts you in a better position where you can anticipate what’s going to happen.” He also pointed to the city’s AAA bond rating.
“Those things don’t happen by accident,” he said. “Our city staff has done a lot of work, and our city council, to be prepared.”
Miller had a different view. “We’re a fairly new community; we have not been saddled with some of the legacy costs of the older communities,” he said. “We need to take that budget and shrink that down to the (expected) revenue. The mayor’s own budget has forecast pretty tough times … and yet it’s just been in the last year or two that the current administration has done long-term forecasting and planning … and even attempted to portray a very tight fiscal conservatism.”
Ambrozaitis repeatedly hammered the mayor on spending “Over the last four years we have been taken to the best restaurant, to use an analogy here, and we have had the best steak … but friends, the bill is coming due,” he said. “We are now short four mills. … But what we haven’t told you is over the last four years, this administration has burnt through millions and millions of our reserves.”
Barnett rebutted that he has cut staffing by 20 percent and reduced general-fund expenditures despite falling revenues. He said the city’s reserves “have grown. Let me repeat that; have grown.”
Miller said salaries and benefits have not been cut enough. “Those at the top in leadership in this administration continue to receive the same salaries and longevity.”
Ambrozaitis agreed that expenses need to be cut more. “Because property values have collapsed, 33 % of the revenue we took in has gone,” he said. “If you knew you were going to have your income reduced 33 percent, what would you do?”
The mayoral forum was preceded by a council candidate forum for the District 2 and at-large seats. At-large candidate Peter Adair was the only one who didn’t participate. The panel was a bit more low key as candidates tried to differentiate their points of view and relevant experience. A few jabs were traded over lack of home ownership, who’s not actively campaigning, and political ambitions and connections.
One questioner sought to expose the candidates’ level of engagement by asking for specific occasions when they have addressed city council. Dee Hilbert and Laurie Puscas had long lists; Howard Elandt said he’s been before council as a developer. Mark Tisdel said he’s addressed council regarding traffic control in his neighborhood.
Adam Kochenderfer said he prefers to speak directly to individual council members. “That’s part of how I’ve become so involved,” he said. “That’s how I came to be on the Green Space Advisory Board.”
Jordan Kotubey mentioned budget issues. Kathleen Fitzgerald, quoting Sparky Anderson, took a different approach.
“People who live in the past generally are afraid to live in the present,” she said. “I am relatively new to Rochester Hills politics, even though I’ve lived here for a number of years. … I can be an advocate for the citizens of Rochester Hills.”
The League of Women Voters has prepared a voter guide for the election. Find it at www.lwvoa.org. The candidate forums are available on demand on the city’s Web site, rochesterhills.org. They will also be rebroadcast on WOW Channel 10, Comcast Channel 20 & AT&T Channel 99. The council forum will be shown July 23 and 24 at 3 p.m.; July 26, 27 and 28 at 7 p.m.; and July 30 -31 at 3 p.m. The mayoral forum will be rebroadcast July 23-24 at 4:30 p.m.; July 26, 27 and 28 at 8:30 p.m.; and July 30-31 at 4:30 p.m.

By ANNETTE KINGSBURY
RochesterMedia.com

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Comments

  1. Beth Tilove says

    Excellent article. To me, the performances of the Mayoral candidates made it clear: Mayor Barnett is, far and away, the most competent and experienced of the candidates.

    The Mayor has put Rochester Hills on the map with our annual fireworks show, the popular Recycle Bank, our strong financial position in these tough times, and more. Our city has a growing reputation as a well-run, successful city, attractive to homebuyers and businesses.

    He handles the occasional controversial issue openly and honestly. His administration has followed through exhaustively on every assignment handed to them by the Council.
    He makes himself available to the residents and will always take the time to discuss any and all concerns.

    The Mayor seems to have endless energy when it comes to promoting our City. He is tireless in his efforts to improve our community and our reputation. I have every confidence that our hometown will continue to benefit under his leadership.

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