The League of Women Voters1 holds debates for candidates running for local and state offices a few weeks before each election. This past week on July 8 and 9, debates between Ann Arbor city council candidates who are running in the August 5 Democratic Party primary were held. Candidates from all the wards are asked the same core questions with a couple questions being more specific for their ward race.
Time to review the Ward 3 candidate debate for Ann Arbor City Council. The debate once again was rather low key with some very low ball questions. There is no incumbent, so no record to critique. I have paraphrased the answers below with a few quotes..
There are three candidates running for the council seat in ward 3.
Julie Grand (D)
Sam McMullen (D)
Bob Dascola (D)
Questions/Issues consisted of:
- Do you agree with Governor Snyder’s statement “The role of government is customer service” and how you affect this within your ward and the city of Ann Arbor at large?
- Are there public safety issues in your ward/the city? As a councilmember how would you address this and would you allocate resources for public safety?
- What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council?
1) Is the role of government customer service?
Grand: Customer service is critical. The residents of Ann Arbor and ward 3 are constituents and consumers. One of the most important jobs as a councilperson is to provide strong constituent services. That means connecting residents when they have problems to resources at the city and following through with that. It means communicating policies that are important to residents. When on the parks commission she improved customer service at the canoe livery and the golf course. She has heard about negative interactions with the city and that really concerns her because that can provide disengagement between the residents and the city.
McMullen: He thinks that saying that a cities main job is customer service implies a corporate outlook. He looks at this as public service. Communication is a huge part. H he thinks that he would be the front line between the people and the government. He wants to think about customer service in more of a broad stroke.
Dascola: He believes that someone calls city hall they should have good customer service. The role of the city council rep is to represent the people of the ward to this government as customer service. He thinks that they should have accessibility to their council rep by phone or email. The city can do a better job with customer service.
In the last 2 debate reviews I actually said “Who would actually say that the role of government is not customer service?” Well we found someone. McMullen tried to be creative with his answer and spin customer service into a type of public service. It didn’t work in my eyes. Public services are the services provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction. Customer service is the provision of service to customers/constituents. For example, providing water to the residents of Ann Arbor is a public service. Providing a bill payment center at city hall is customer service. Having your council rep help you with a bill dispute is customer service.
I give him credit for trying be creative, but his answer might be more attune with someone running for state rep or US house representative rather than local government. Local government is all about service. State and Federal government is mostly about policy (with some services)
Dascola gave the staus quo answer.
Grand spoke to why customer service was important, that she heard there were areas that still needed improving, but then included how she improved customer service at the canoe liveries and at a golf course. She showed that she knew how to accomplish good customer service.
2) Public Safety concerns and the allocation of resources?
Grand: yes, there are public safety concerns in the 3rd ward. While crime is down overall, she doesn’t think that it is very meaningful to you if crime is happening to you personally. We all want a safe community. “Conversation regarding allocation should be about facts and not fear. We need to think about how our police and firefighters are utilized. We need to think about metrics that clearly explain what we’re going to get when we add those police and fire safety officers. Are we getting more safety when we add staff?” She would like to see officers get out of their cars in the downtown. She said, “We also need — when we talk about allocation of resources — public education and traffic calming, and most importantly, we need to address the root causes of crime, so part of that allocation really should come from human services funding, so we can talk about things like drug addiction, mental health, poverty and housing.”
McMullen: Public safety is a core responsibility of city government. It’s what we have to do right before we talk about anything else. In the 3rd ward specifically but not just with public safety, but with infrastructure there is a gradient as you go out into the ward. That is something that has been a trend since the 80’s and we have recouped the downtown, but now he thinks it is time to play a little catch up with the rest of the ward. Sees the homeless problem downtown as more of an affordable housing issue.
Dascola: There are public safety concerns in the 3rd ward. He knows someone who got there car stolen and things stolen from their shed. People are really concerned about public safety. We have panhandling downtown. A councilmember can help by promoting more police officers. A lot of crimes go unreported and the crime statics are way down. He said, “I had lunch with a police officer a few months ago, and she told me that while I was sitting having lunch with her, there were only three other people driving around in police cars, and at night, from 11 o’clock until 7 a.m., there’s only two.”
Grand gave a very comprehensive answer that includes the acknowledgement of crime in the 3rd ward, and addresses a thoughtful way of possibly adding more resources. I like her idea of using metrics to make sure that added staff are accomplishing the goals. I like that she wants to address the root causes of crime and possible pulling from resources from human services funding.
Dascola answer makes Ann Arbor look crime ridden. Personally, I think his description is a little extreme. Yes, there is crime in the city, but no place is completely crime free. There will always be burglaries and car stolen; that’s just part of life in today’s world. My neighbor who parks right next to me in my condo parking lot had her car stolen, but it is a rare event, but still does happen in my neighborhood. I would never think of my neighborhood as full of crime. Will adding more cops…100 more cops….stop those things from happening. No.
The chief of police actually took issue with Dascola’s claim about how many police were patrolling the city at any given time. In Ryan Stanton’s coverage of the debate², Chief Seto responded:
Police Chief John Seto said Dascola’s depiction of police staffing levels in Ann Arbor is not accurate.
“As for the first part, there may be times when officers are tied up on calls or at the station for followup, but we always have more than four officers scheduled to work,” he said. “As for the second part about staffing on nights, it is absolutely false that we would ever only have two officers working.”
It appears that Dascola was exaggerating or had his facts wrong. Not a good trait for a potential councilmember.
McMullen acknowledged that public safety is a core responsibility of city government and then expanded his answer to say that public safety along with infrastructure and everything else should be expanded to the outskirts of the ward. Nothing new there.
3)What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council
Grand: She has an MS and PhD in public health from the University of Michigan and has worked in economically challenged communities. She teaches diverse a group of students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn; she teaches them how to evaluate programs in policy analysis. Often the answers to complex problems by looking at best practices and research top down solutions and by adapting them to the local solutions by listening. Having been on the City’s parks commission for 6 years, she understands how the city works, written resolutions, understands the budget process, and has developed a leadership style that is collaborative.
McMullen: He admits to not having the same resume as the others, but thinks he can do the job nonetheless. He said that you need someone to listen, someone who can learn quickly, and someone who can be receptive to a broad range of people. And as a student, if there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s his homework, so he’s prepared to take on this job. He thinks he can give the student population a voice at council. He is the only one who can offer access to the student population.
Dascola: He runs a business; he has experience managing people and managing customers. He has gone to 6 international downtown conferences and has gotten a lot of ideas from other cities to make their cities safe. He thinks this experience will help him go into the neighborhoods to improve the streets, infrastructure and safety.
While I am impressed with McMullen’s public speaking and presentation skills for his age, I don’t think he has the professional experience to know how to deal with the public and the bureaucracy of government. I have trained many undergrads and new grads over the years, and I can tell you that it takes awhile for students to adapt to a professional workplace. In a professional workplace you have deadlines and responsibilities, have to work in teams with people who are not always receptive or responsible, and you may have to work with difficult people in the public or with difficult staff. As a student, you work with people who generally want the same goal as you…a good grade…or you work at a part time job where you are simply performing a job with no real responsibility on your shoulders. Navigating through the bureaucracy of government without real world experience is not a good idea for a new councilmember in my opinion. I think he should maybe apply for a city commission first. He seems smart and articulate so I think we may see more of him again if this election does not go his way.
As for Dascola, he has business experience and he has attended many conferences on downtowns. He somehow concludes that what he has learned at the conferences about downtowns will help him bring services out to the neighborhoods in the 3rd ward. Huh? I didn’t get what he meant.
Julie has a lot of experience working with the Park’s commission (PAC) for the city. She understands how things work at the city and how to get things done. She is also is well educated and knows how to analyze and solve problems by her profession. All her governmental experience clearly makes her the more qualified candidate to represent the ward.
Dascola seems over his head in this race. At the Ann Arbor Dems debate as well as in this debate he does not appear to have an in depth knowledge of the issues. He has no vision for anything else and no record to judge. What we do know about him is that he sued the city to run for this council seat. He won in court on a technicality, even though the ruling judge said that residency requirements are/could be considered legal by today’s standards (as shown in the Detroit 2013 court cases). As his first act as council candidate he cost the city thousands of dollars. That makes me livid. To read my thoughts on the court case read here and here. We also know that he got his facts wrong when spouting out statistics about police patrols and the chief of police had to correct him. He is not a good fit to be on council.
As I said above, McMullen is not ready for prime time yet; too young, too inexperienced. He also does not have an in depth knowledge of city issues. A positive attitude only goes so far and does not get things accomplished. His intentions may be good, but I don’ think he is the right person for this job at this time.
Julie Grand is the right person for the job. She has the most well rounded of the three candidates. She knows how to analyze the complex problems and how to find the solutions. She has 6 years experience working with the city of Ann Arbor and can point to accomplishments that she has done with the Park’s commission. When she talks about change she likes to base her decisions/comments on facts and metrics. I like that. I think Julie Grand is the right person to win the 3rd ward council seat.
MOTL endorses Julie Grand for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 3.
Here is Julie Grand’s closing statement:
“Conversation regarding allocation (in public safety) should be about facts and not fear. We need to think about how our police and firefighters are utilized. We need to think about metrics that clearly explain what we’re going to get when we add those police and fire safety officers. Are we getting more safety when we add staff?
1 League of Women Voters website
2 Ryan Stanton, “3 candidates vying for 3rd Ward seat on Ann Arbor City Council“. Mlive.com, July 9. 2014.