Mayor’s races testy in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights
Voters across Wayne County will head to the polls Tuesday to vote on mayoral races, municipal and school proposals.
In mayoral races in Wayne County, incumbents hope to keep their positions in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Gibraltar, Grosse Pointe, Hamtramck and Westland. Two newcomers are vying for the top spot in Grosse Pointe Farms.
Dearborn’s race, between Mayor John O’Reilly and City Council President Pro Tem Tom Tafelski, has been contentious, as has the race in Dearborn Heights between Mayor Daniel Paletko and challenger Lisa Hicks-Clayton, a city councilwoman.
O’Reilly faced criticism after it came to light that he had bought a 2008 Ford Escape for his son from a family friend who was involved in a failed development deal to build a Noodles & Co. restaurant.
O’Reilly said he had no involvement in the approval of the deal – which occurred months earlier; however, he said that in hindsight, he shouldn’t have purchased the vehicle.
“Looking back, I wished I hadn’t done it,” he said. “I had no role in him getting what he did, but it gives the appearance of impropriety. I never exercised any influence.”
O’Reilly, 69, who has been mayor for 10 years, said he hopes to continue the work he’s done, including rebuilding some of the city’s business districts.
“When we had the recession, I brought together about 40 people from the community to develop a five-year plan to deal with the recession,” he said. “Then in 2016, we came up with a 10-year plan. We know where we want to go and what we need to do. I want to stay on that path.”
But Tafelski, first elected to city council in 2001, said the city needs fresh ideas and leadership, especially in the mayor’s office, which O’Reilly has occupied since 2007.
“He’s a nice man, but his time has come,” Tafelski said. “It’s time to energize the city hall. A fresh, positive look on new ideas for a better Dearborn tomorrow and beyond.”
Tafelski, 47, said the city needs to become more business-friendly with a streamlined processes at the housing and the economic and community development departments.
“With the resurgence in Detroit and southeast Michigan I want to make it easier for homeowners to come and expand their house,” he said. “For business developers to come in and see Dearborn is a great place to invest.”
O’Reilly said the city is already doing a good job of attracting employers and rebuilding its business districts. “We’ve seen more investment now that the economy is better,” he said.
The mayor said the city has attracted young families by increasing the sizes of previously narrow lots to accommodate larger houses with driveways.
In Dearborn Heights, taxes are a key issue in the race between Hicks-Clayton and Paletko.
Hicks-Clayton says she wants to roll back the Headlee override voters approved in 2011 that allowed the city to collect an additional 2.95 mills. She also wants City Hall to be open more than four days a week.
“We need to get back to five days,” she said. “It’s a challenge for our departments when they’re restricted to the four-day work week.”
Paletko contends that the Headlee override and the change to City Hall hours were among measures needed to avoid an emergency manager as the city dealt with falling property tax revenues during the recession.
“We reacted to it, straightened it out,” he said.
Paletko and Hicks-Clayton also have butted heads over the idea of outsourcing the city’s 911 dispatch service to Dearborn. Hicks-Clayton has criticized the Paletko for his seeming support of the effort, while the mayor says a study funded through a grant last year was only exploratory.
“We’re not contracting out 911,” he said. “Did we study it? Yes. We did.”
In other mayoral races:
■Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski is being challenged by Councilman Mohammed Hassan.
■Gibraltar Mayor Jim Gorris will face Mayor Pro Tem Denis Boismier.
■Grosse Pointe Councilman Christopher Boettcher is challenging Mayor Dale Scrace.
■Westland Councilman Kevin Coleman is seeking to oust Mayor William Wild.
■Grosse Pointe Farms councilmen Joe Ricci and Louis Theros are competing for the mayor’s seat.
Several communities also have contested city council races.
Suburban proposals on the ballot include a five-year, .9983-mill renewal in Grosse Ile for police operations.
In Southgate, officials are seeking a city charter amendment that would allow the city to collect an additional 1 mill for five years for improvements to parks and recreation facilities.
Mayor Joseph Kuspa said many of the city’s parks need upgrades to equipment, some as old as 25 years.
“This spring some parents asked us about equipment in disrepair,” He said. “We did an audit and had to start removing them because the equipment could not be fixed; parts were not available. We wanted to make sure the parks are safe.”
In Garden City, voters will decide on a $50 million, 15-year bond issue for street improvements.
Garden City residents also will be asked to renew an 18-mill school operating millage for five years, starting in 2019.
“We’re fiscally responsible to bring it to the voters early,” Superintendent Derek Fisher said. “If a district does not get this passed, the state does not make up for the shortfall.”
In other school proposals:
■The Gibraltar School District seeks a $24.4 million bond issue for building improvements.
■Northville Public Schools seeks a $104.8 million bond issue for facility improvements.
■Romulus Community Schools is requesting a 2.5-mill, 10-year operating renewal and 3-mill, 10-year sinking fund for building improvements.
■Taylor Public Schools is seeking am 18-mill, 10-year operating renewal.
■Lincoln Consolidated Schools is asking voters to renew an 18-mill operating millage and an 0.0986-mill levy for recreation and playground facilities.