Muskegon City Commission primary election candidates share their views ahead of 2021 vote | #College. | #Students


MUSKEGON, MI – The first step in ushering in a new Muskegon city commissioner will be the Aug. 3 primary when the candidate field will be narrowed.

The primary will whittle from five to four the number of candidates seeking two open at-large seats on the commission. The final four will face off in the Nov. 2 general election for the four-year seats.

Those appearing on the primary ballot are Rachel Gorman, Michael E. Hughes, John F. Page, Rebecca St. Clair and incumbent Daniel Sybenga.

Not seeking re-election is Ken Johnson, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Steve Gawron in the general election.

To help readers learn about the candidates, MLive sent a questionnaire to each candidate asking for their background information and their stances on city issues.

Background information is provided below in alphabetical order.

Rachel Gorman, 29, works as donor relations manager for Muskegon Community College. She is a member of the Greater Muskegon Jaycees and LEAD Muskegon and serves as secretary of the Parties in the Park Board of Directors. She has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Michigan State University. She also is a graduate of Muskegon in Focus. She is married to Brennen Gorman.

Michael Hughes, 29, works for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He attended Muskegon Community College and has experience mentoring youth and volunteering. He is married and has one child.

John “Jack” Page, 55, is a working chef and restaurant operator. He has an associate’s degree in marketing and management from Muskegon Community College. He has served on the city’s income tax board of review and was voted Neighbor of the Year by the Beachwood/Bluffton Neighborhood Association in 2020. He is married to Jamie Arnold Page and has two children.

Rebecca St. Clair, 46, is a clinical supervisor at HealthWest. She is a board member and former board president of Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation, secretary of the MOCAP Board of Trustees, former chair of Good for YOUth and former Big Reds Band Parents board member. St. Clair has an associate’s degree from Muskegon Community College, bachelor’s degree in social work from Grand Valley State University and master’s degrees in public administration and social work from GVSU. She is married to Kwame James and has two children.

Dan Sybenga, 45, is dean of academic affairs for Muskegon Community College. He has served on the Muskegon City Commission since first being elected in 2013. Sybenga is a West Michigan Works! Workforce Development board member, Michigan Irish Fest board member, Nelson Neighborhood Improvement Association Activities chair and youth hockey coach. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University and is a Ph.D. candidate in education leadership at Western Michigan University. He is married with two children.

Below is how candidates responded to questions on some key issues. The responses have not been edited by MLive.

Why should voters elect you?

Gorman: My neighbors in the City of Muskegon should elect me to Commissioner At-Large because serving our community is my passion! I began my career working at the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce as the Advocacy and Event Manager. In this role I saw first-hand the impact that collaborative partnerships between residents, the private sector, and local government can have on increasing the quality of life accessible to residents. My experience has offered the opportunity to see the direct results of these collaborations and to see the dramatic impact economic development can have not only on the physical structures of our community, but on the attitudes and lifestyle of the people that live here. This work was a catalyst to my aspirations to one day serve at the local level in government and I am energized to campaign to lead the City. There have been many conversations in the City about supporting diverse voices and opinions. I believe if elected, I bring a one of these voices to the Commission at a time when the City not only needs it the most, but when our neighbors are requiring this representation.

Hughes: I have spent time speaking with young voters in the City. Being a young voter, I found that voters my age that needs that are not being met, such as affordable housing and jobs. My vision is to make the City aware that there is a need for young voters who pay taxes to obtain good paying jobs so that they can afford to live in some of these beautiful houses being built all over the city. The City of Muskegon’s Commissioner At- Large needs to be a commissioner who stands up and fights for the interest and needs of all citizens in the city of Muskegon.

Page: I will be a watchdog that the city sorely needs. Transparency and accountability within Muskegon’s city government have been lacking as proven by such instances as the gift card issues, the overspending without authority, and not following our own charter. I also believe that, while some areas of our city have made great strides economically, not all of Muskegon’s neighborhoods have benefitted from this resurgence. I believe that ALL neighborhoods deserve to benefit from the continued growth of our great city. I’ll try to direct resources towards those neighborhoods that have seen less than their share.

St. Clair: I am a social worker. I am the wife of a black man and together we are parents of two young black men. I am a woman seeking a seat on a commission that has not had more than two women on it at the same time recent memory, maybe ever. I am a long-term government worker, having worked for Muskegon County for 16 years, 10 in a management position. I understand how government works and the limitations and opportunities that come with being a steward of public dollars. I love this community, both the people and the place, and have lived here for 19 years. There has been amazing progress, and Muskegon is on the rise. At the same time, I am aware that some folks benefit more than others from this, and there are those that feel they have no voice as change happens around them. Community voice and collaboration is vital to keeping a healthy balance, and the people who live here need to benefit as much as the developers that are driving change. Good governance is collaborative and sometimes moves slowly to allow everyone a voice. This requires vocal and involved commissioners who are responsive to the voters offering guidance and accountability to the city staff. People need to be listened to even when the outcome isn’t what they are hoping for. As a trained therapist I listen and am skilled at advocacy and mediation.

Sybenga: I have lived in Muskegon for 18 years and served on the city commission for 8 years, and throughout that time I have sought to improve prosperity and quality of life for Muskegon residents. Since day one of moving here I have been involved in community improvement and development projects that have gotten results. I have a lot of experience in the complicated issues of serving on a public board, leading staff, community building, and working with a team, and also diverse constituencies, to achieve a goal. I promise to keep learning and being open to new ideas to incorporate into strategies to contribute to Muskegon’s progress.

If elected, what will be your top three priorities?

Gorman: My first priority is to continue to cultivate the City of Muskegon’s renaissance, working to ensure that the City’s upward trajectory extends neighborhoods outside of downtown. Immediate development of our downtown was a critical in laying a foundation for sustained success, but we must now pivot and ensure that our growth and prosperity reaches every resident beyond the downtown community. My next priority is to ensure the City’s spending is fiscally responsible and that we are judicious with taxpayer dollars — notably with respect to the generational impact the COVID-19 relief funds represent for our community. This is a critical time for the City to focus on ways to address unfunded liabilities and position the city to be in a financially solvent place for the future. Finally, my third priority is, simply, to celebrate our community by taking pride in our residents, the work accomplished here, and the exceptional lifestyle we offer. Anyone outside of Muskegon that doubts the current or future success of our Shoreline City will find it increasingly hard to deny that Muskegon has become premier destination to live and work.

Hughes: My major priorities for me if elected: 1. Addressing crime and gun violence, 2. Advocating for Affordable Housing, 3. Programs for Youth.

Page: 1.) Protect our parks – The city of Muskegon should adhere to its own charter. When any private entity proposes a business on public park land those proposals should go before a vote of the people. The residents should be allowed to decide. 2.) Protect our money – Lacking transparency and accountability in the past, I have concerns regarding the city’s spending of our upcoming federal COVID-19 funding. While I believe the initial plan is solid, past practices haven’t always seen good outcomes. This process needs to be as transparent as possible and use as much citizen input as possible. 3.) Protect our housing – Many residents within the limits of the city of Muskegon can afford rent and would like to purchase their own homes. If you can afford rent you can generally afford a house payment. The issue is the down payment, credit score, and first time buyer process. I’d like to see some federal COVID-19 funds be used to expand the first time home buyer program already established by the city. The current limit of $5,000.00 is insufficient for today’s real estate market.

St. Clair: To listen to the people that elected me and make sure that they have a voice in the choices being made. To be a good steward of the public dollars that fund the city. To ensure that a thriving Muskegon can and should benefit us all. Equity, justice and inclusion are as important as commerce and economics.

Sybenga: My top three priorities will continue to be jobs, healthy, safe neighborhoods, and efficient City of Muskegon services. By jobs I mean residents and employers meeting each other’s needs, creating prosperity for our residents. Healthy and safe neighborhoods involve creating a sense of community and empowering neighbors to take part in the change they want to see. Efficient City of Muskegon services mean responsive, transparent customer service, focused on fiscal sustainability for generations to come.

What is your opinion of proposed/completed changes at Pere Marquette beach?

Gorman: Pere Marquette Beach is an indispensable asset to the City, which benefits not only residents, but the whole of the Greater Muskegon community. I am proud that in recent years the City has invested in free amenities for beachgoers at Pere Marquette, like the new playground area, and investments in the Margaret Drake Elliott Park that welcomes groups to host various outings and family reunions. It is abundantly clear that the growth and investment in Pere Marquette Beach have been positively received, with record numbers of people frequenting our beach every day of the week. We know that we have the best beach in Michigan – the secret is getting out, fast. In the future, I believe the Commission needs to revisit the expanded parking plan to address the vehicle capacity issues occurring at Pere Marquette Beach. Use of Pere Marquette will continue to rise and we must be proactive in addressing that increase demand. To do nothing is to intentionally create hazardous conditions for residents and visitors alike.

Hughes: This is something that the entire community should be engaged in. Community involvement is very important when making changes to Pere Marquette beach. In my opinion, there should always be public access to the beach. Our beach should be a place that is welcoming to everyone, with public amenities.

Page: First, let me go on record by saying I was an early proponent of both paid parking and the addition of a traffic circle. Paid parking has produced significant revenue while producing no evidence of people avoiding the beach due to the fee. It is filled every time I go by and the fees collected will allow for the improvement of other parks within the city. The traffic circle solved an ongoing traffic issue. My hope is that we can still tie the new Dunes development located in the old Sand Docks property into the traffic circle rather than routing traffic through neighborhood streets. Let’s not create a new traffic problem when we just solved an old one. I believe that a parking redesign can be achieved that adds additional spaces, saves our old growth trees, and allows areas for planting new trees. Other changes such as the use of non-asphalt materials for walkways and the reduction of the amount of beach used should be incorporated into the plan as well. As far as the expansion of the Deck Restaurant and location of the jet ski chalet (that was only used for one season) I believe that since these are private entities asking to use large sections of our public park land, those decisions should be put before a vote of the people. The Charter Parks ordinance was voted into place for the SPECIFIC reason that the City Commission should not be able to make these decisions on their own.

St. Clair: I believe the beach is a treasure and needs to be kept safe from overdevelopment. I think it is the most beautiful location in Muskegon and I want it to be accessible to everyone.

Sybenga: If you look at the private and public investments at Pere Marquette completed over the last two years it is amazing. A new playground was installed and the bath house was refurbished, the round-a-bout was constructed with a major piece of art in it, and the streets accessing the beach have been re-done. I think it is unfortunate the planned non-motorized trail and parking improvements were not completed this year and I hope they will be completed in the future. I think the introduction of paid parking was a smart and fair way to realize revenue to cover the costs the city incurs to take care of the beach and other city parks. On the private side the expansion and investment at the Deck and Dockers has been well-done and they serve as a major regional attractions to Pere Marquette Beach, bringing in tourists. I think Pere Marquette beach has a long history of beach going and other ancillary activities and I firmly believe the city, and the community, will shape a beach that continues to amaze and touch our lives with sunsets, water, sand, and community.

What do you think about the course downtown development is taking, and what else would you like to see there?

Gorman: I have seen, firsthand, the transformation of Downtown Muskegon. As a resident of the downtown area, I am spoiled with walkable access to our award-winning festivals and events, the second largest Farmers Market in Michigan, an assortment of locally-owned small businesses, and innovative spaces like the Western Market Chalets – we live in a remarkable place. I am inspired by our downtown and believe development will continue to move forward in the positive direction. In the future I would like to see the remaining vacant areas, buildings, and lots fully developed through an offering of mixed residential and commercial use. I would like to see these projects completed by developers with a vested interest in the City and ensure that local labor is involved in as many of these projects as feasible.

Hughes: Developing downtown Muskegon has gained momentum over the years. It is becoming the central hub for economic activities. I would like to see more activities and businesses that cater toward youth by providing jobs. It should include more diversity, equity, inclusion and minority businesses.

Page: As a person who grew up in the Nelson Neighborhood, I believe the resurgence of our downtown is nothing short of extraordinary. Downtown Muskegon has numerous cultural events, restaurants, entertainment and retail spaces, and now a new convention center. Downtown Muskegon has it all! I would like to see more public use space along the waterfront. Currently we have Heritage Landing as an anchor for public access but my fear is that the increased development downtown will lead to a decrease in the amount of public access spaces which are already too few. There is also a decades-long need for a downtown grocery store to support the families in the growing downtown residential areas. I believe the Third Street corridor as well as surrounding neighborhoods would benefit greatly from the addition of an anchor grocery store.

St. Clair: I knew the Muskegon Mall as a thriving and exciting place to visit when I was a child. When I moved to Muskegon as an adult it was a failing operation that soon closed completely. I remember the chained parking lots that became a huge sandlot with actual tumbleweeds rolling through downtown. I have watched the regrowth of the downtown with enthusiasm and am looking forward to seeing the empty lots fill in.

Sybenga: I have lived downtown Muskegon since moving here 18 years ago and like the beach, our downtown has a story, or a history, that will chart us to the future. I think the history of a dense, urban city center is being reborn, and this time taking in the resource of our restored Muskegon Lake shoreline. I believe the amenities of downtown, which have mostly always been around (think great culture and entertainment), are coming to an age of appreciation and I think that is healthy for the greater Muskegon area. I would like to see strong, dense, diverse, residential connections between downtown and the hearts of the Nelson, Nims and Jackson Hill neighborhoods. The youth of our community should be engaged in downtown development through public art, community events, participation at Mercy Health Arena, entrepreneurship and job training, which will establish buy-in and representation downtown for years to come. I would like to see increased pedestrian amenities in the downtown area connecting to the waterfront. Finally, I would like to see a diverse group of businesses, that cater to all customers, flourish downtown Muskegon.

What is your impression of the crime rate in Muskegon and the effectiveness of the police department?

Gorman: Muskegon’s crime rate has been falling for the past thirty years, but we remain above the State and Federal average. Crime occurs when people are desperate, and people are desperate when they have limited opportunities. There are many residents in the City of Muskegon that have limited opportunities and instead face an uphill battle against generational poverty, housing instability, commercial disinvestment, and lack of investment in public education. I fail to believe that those who commit crimes would be doing so had they been afforded these opportunities and given a stable environment during their critical formative years. The Muskegon City Police Department has implemented numerous proactive policies and programs to connect with the community. The Citizens Police Academy, Neighborhood Officer Program, Youth Public Safety Education Program, and many others to create relationships that can make a positive impact in our community before tragedy comes about. Despite these programs, it is important to acknowledge that too often when our police seek out witnesses and information related to a crime they are met with resistance. As residents, we need to take ownership of our role in cooperation with law enforcement to ensure our community reflects the safety and values we all want for Muskegon.

Hughes: I support community policing. I feel there must be complete trust among the police officers and the community. Also, the police department needs more diversity and inclusion to reflect the city it serves.

Page: The crime rate in Muskegon is a direct reflection that all areas of our great city are not benefitting from its resurgence. People deserve to feel safe in every single neighborhood in Muskegon. Without offering the citizens in all neighborhoods the same opportunities that have helped to rebuild the downtown and other areas, our continued rise is sure to falter. I still believe that there is a sincere need for programs that allow citizens the opportunity to report neighborhood crimes safely. Improvement of communication and trust between the citizens and police needs to continue to be a priority. I also feel that the police should be supplemented with the help of social workers, substance abuse counselors, mental health workers, and crisis intervention personnel.

St. Clair: As a social worker I am aware that a lot of the crime in Muskegon comes from poverty and mental health concerns. Muskegon has a poverty rate over 30% and a lot of legal involvement comes back to not having enough money. Poor mental health also leads to run ins with the police that escalate and lead to criminal charges. If, as a community we could direct funds to combat poverty there would be less call for police response. Other communities have discovered that funding community workers allowed police officers to be able to focus on investigating and preventing crime, rather than getting called into situations that don’t require armed police response.

Sybenga: Regarding crime statistics I think numbers are more important than impressions. Looking at numbers for the last two, complete years, crime was down from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, 2720 crimes were reported and in 2020, 2426 crimes were reported. The presence and momentum related to crime is a partnership between the community and law enforcement. I think our police force has done an effective job. The city of Muskegon has a strong, long standing, neighborhood based, community policing approach that has born results. In addition the department has demonstrated a commitment to social justice and to improved policing practices that reflect the truth that policing is a partnership with the community. The chief is an active member of the Social Justice Commission that has met regularly for years to address police/community relations. The department recently received MACP accreditation, meaning an amazing number of Lexipol standards in regards to policies and procedures were met. In addition the police department is rolling out a well thought out and effective body/dashcam and data integration system that will improve accountability. Finally, the makeup of our force is now 72% white, 8% Hispanic and 7% black which better represents our community than it did when it was 84% white, 3% Hispanic, and 3% black in 2012.

Also on MLive

COVID-19 vaccine required for all Trinity Health employees

Summer walking tours explore history and art in downtown Muskegon

Michigan man surprised to unearth Brunswick bowling ball graveyard behind home



Source link