The Nov. 8 election will bring at least one new person to the Rochester City Council. Six people, including three incumbents, are vying for four seats. Incumbent David Becker did not run for re-election.
Incumbents Ben Giovanelli, Kim Russell and Steve Sage face newcomers Cathy Daldin, Ann Peterson and Stan Surratt. The top three vote-getters will receive four-year terms. The fourth-place finisher will earn a two-year seat.
Giovanelli and Russell are completing their first terms on council. Sage, former chairman of the Rochester Historical Commission, was appointed to fill a vacancy on council and is running in his first election. Daldin is co-owner of Shamrock Travel and serves on the Downtown Development Authority board. Peterson is a Realtor who serves on the City Beautiful Commission and the planning commission. Surratt is a retired Chrysler engineer and former owner of The Silk Worm who spent eight years on the DDA.
The six squared off recently in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Questions were posed by the audience and ranged from lighting standards to historic preservation and capital investment.
Twelve-year Rochester resident Steve Szoke, who attended the forum, said he knows most of the candidates. He said the candidates’ answers didn’t always agree with what he believes the facts to be on some of the issues. He urged residents to get informed before voting.
“Do your homework,” he said.
All three incumbents said they are running on council’s record of maintaining services and cutting costs during a time of shrinking revenues.
Surratt said he sees a “lack of leadership and an abundance of micromanagement” on council. He said he would take a more upbeat approach and “celebrate life in Rochester.” Peterson said her main reason for running is to protect property values. Daldin said she believes in “quality services at a fair price without raising taxes.”
Given the tough economy, one resident asked how the candidates would make decisions on capital investment. Daldin said she would look at the trail system. “This is a city built around trails,” she said. “I think that’s a great area for us to look at.”
Peterson said the population is aging and she would work with the school district to bring new families to town. “It’s a big picture,” she said.
Sage said the master plan, which is in the process of review, “will be critical to balancing programs. … I would encourage everyone to be involved in that process.”
Russell said she always considers wants versus needs. “It has to be a smart investment. What is the return on the investment?” she said.
Surratt said council hasn’t exhibited leadership when it comes to capital projects. He was critical of the process used to approve a recent DDA bridge project, which ran up unexpectedly high engineering costs. “This is a game called ‘guess my mind,” he said.
Giovanelli said the bridge project will be a catalyst for economic development, and that’s what he looks for in capital projects. He disagreed with Surratt’s characterization of council. “It’s not dysfunctional,” he said. “You want people that challenge each other.”
Russell said she voted against the bridge project because “It is a nicety; it’s not a necessity.”
Sage said the bridge project is needed. But he acknowledged that the approval process was “a little bit different.”
On the question of historic preservation, all agreed they want to preserve local history. Surratt suggested a historic overlay to the master plan “so we know what buildings are out there that can be saved and need to be saved.”
Daldin said she got involved in city government after the DDA tore down two historic homes across from hers and put up a parking lot. The parking lot then became a late-night problem for neighbors. “The historic aspect of Rochester is one of the best things we have,” she said.
Giovanelli said he thinks the city can preserve its history while progressing. “I think tearing down history to build parking lots is stupid,” he said.
The candidate forum will be available on demand on the city’s Web site, www.rochestermi.org The League of Women Voters has also prepared a voter guide on the race, which can be found at www.lwvoa.org.