Muskegon Heights Mayoral Candidate Forum: A Breakdown

Andrew Trzaska | November 3, 2011

Wednesday’s mayoral candidate forum at Muskegon Heights City Hall featured all four candidates up for the city’s top elected position.

 

Darrell L. Paige, 52, 543 Overbrook, Grand Valley State University

Bonnie M. McGlothin, 59, 2112 Ray, Baker College

Eddie Jenkins, 35, 2637 Wood, Lansing Barber College

Dorothy Jeanette Scott, 69, 3176 Fielstra, Western Michigan University

 

Newcomer Eddie Jenkins cites his street-level social connections with the city’s residents as a reason to elect him.

Paige described the city’s proactive work to eliminate its deficit over the past two years as a reason to keep him in office.

Sitting councilwomen McGlothin and Scott both cite their long-term government experience as qualification for challenging the sitting Mayor Paige.  Neither will return to the council if they are not elected mayor.

The four candidates discussed topics of public safety, consolidation, image perception issues and communication between the city and other parts of the community, including Muskegon Heights Public Schools.

The forum came together over the past few weeks with the help of the current council and two residents, Latesha Johnson and Naeink.

Like the city council forum, questions from the crowd and several pre-submitted questions received 2-minute responses from each candidate.

(Editor’s note: Read Thursday’s city council forum breakdown here)

 

Q: With state revenue sharing expected to drop, how do you propose increasing public safety resources?”

 

McGlothin did not make promises of an increase: “We’re really just trying to maintain it.” She did, however, cite the police department’s securing a grant to hire another officer for the next three years.

Paige suggested that the city stay on the course it is now, citing the police grant as well as working with the police union.

Jenkins believed the city’s police and fire departments could not be cut anymore than they are already.  He suggested the city take any profits it makes and set them aside to improve its housing stock to convince new officers to come live in the city.

Scott also cited the grants the police and fire departments have recently received and promoted a program she was influential in starting, where local college students studying criminal justice or police academy trainees can perform administrative police work to cut department expenses while getting students experience.

 

Q: How much money do you spend on black vendors for city contracts? (A 3% number was cited at Wednesday’s meetings by sitting council members and members of the public).

 

Paige explained the city’s competitive bid process that everyone has to go through and the city’s shared buying with the county and other municipalities.  He did not guarantee purchasing from black or other minority vendors would change: “Right now I can’t say if this is going to go up or go down.”

Jenkins said the city’s property taxes and policies drive businesses away and is not in the position to demand anything from its business owners: “In our community we have a majority of experienced people. We need to exploit that more.”

Scott defended the city’s extent of black vendors use, saying that in many cases, a good bid would come in from a contractor or merchant who wasn’t licensed by state or federal standards. Without the proper certification, the city had to select other bids.

McGlothin did not promise the widely-used 3% number would rise in the near future.  McGlothin echoed Scott’s explanation of improper licensing and stated the city’s tight budget required them to use the cheapest vendors as long as those lowest bids would not hurt the city.

 

Q: What is your position on consolidation?

 

Scott came out strongly against consolidating services, citing a Wall Street Journal article saying it does not pay off. “The city has been here for over 100 years. We can continue to manage our city”.

McGlothin focused on police and fire services in her response. While she stated that she would look at what’s best for the city, she expressed concerns that the city may be poorly served by a shared arrangement.

Paige focused on water consolidation, promoting the city’s filtration plant as something to hold on to: “When you had flight out of the city, they left some things behind – the resources.”  Paige also suggested that a city without its own fire and police departments functions more like a township.

Jenkins’s tone differed from the reluctance of the other three candidates: “I’m all about the money and if consolidation will bring in revenue we should look at it over time.”

 

Q: Perception and performance of a city’s school system can drive a city’s economic development and population growth.  There is a perceived disconnect between the City of Muskegon Heights and the Muskegon Heights Public School district. What would you explicitly do to bridge the gap?

 

McGlothin claimed the city council has requested meetings to talk to the school board but the meeting has not happened.

Paige stated that the two entities were acting independently out of necessity: “Right now everyone is trying to be self-sufficient.”  Paige also cited his recent layoff from the school district and avoided to pinning blame on either side, instead expressing the shared pain of the whole state’s declining population.

Jenkins suggested a closer link between the district and the city and spoke strongly against the school district: “If this were a business someone would be getting fired and someone would be getting laid off”

Scott echoed McGlothin’s statement, saying that working through Muskegon Heights Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant and Athletic Director Keith Guy, no meeting had yet developed.

 

Q: The Muskegon Heights Police Department will not likely grow soon due to the city’s budget. However, what would you do about the complaints and performance concerns surrounding those currently on the force?

 

Paige acknowledged that complaints were being received from residents about the police but also from the police about residents. “We’re not going to hide anything,” he said. “Some of it needs to be straightened out.”  Paige cited the complexity of dealing with the police department’s union as part of the situation.

Jenkins spoke strongly against the current state of the police department, saying the problem has been around for a while: “I see everything you are seeing… I see a lot of the misconduct going on.”  Jenkins called for evaluations of every city official and employee and suggested that new officers receive “training for dealing with urban community people.”

Scott referred to the council and mayor’s recent meetings with the police chief about personnel issues in a private meeting.  She claimed they stressed strongly to Police Chief Lynne Gill that he must control the department, and would honor his word.

McGlothin suggested that the council and mayor were being left in the dark about what happens in the police department.  She said that if elected, she would meet with the police chief more often and hold him accountable.

 

View The Beat’s report on the Muskegon Heights city council forum here.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst