Three candidates for the mayor’s office in the Village of Walbridge found an issue to disagree on before a debate held Tuesday even began: how the debate was arranged.
Incumbent Dan Wilczynski was at the debate at VFW Post 9963 on Main Street but challengers Stewart Murphy and Ron Liwo didn’t attend, saying they had prior commitments and were not given adequate notice of the event or a chance to discuss how it would be formatted.
“This reputed ‘campaign forum’ is nothing more than Mr. Wilczynski’s attempting to generate some attention to his faltering campaign,” a prepared statement from Liwo and Murphy said.
|Stewart Murphy responds to the debate issue with a sign in front of
his Union Street home. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
The statement says the two were contacted by a representative of the VFW Post and invited but weren’t furnished with proposed ground rules and weren’t asked for their input on a date and format. Liwo said he had an out-of-town commitment the day of the debate and Murphy said he had to work.
Mayor Wilczynski acknowledged after the debate, which was his idea, he didn’t personally contact the other mayoral candidates but let a representative of the VFW post call them.
He told the 20 or so residents who attended that, if re-elected, he would focus on improving communication between town hall and residents and push for business development on Main Street and on village-owed property along the town’s western border, which he described as ideal for industrial and commercial use and priced below acreage in neighboring jurisdictions.
He said the village has submitted a bid to purchase a vacant building at 100 Main Street for $20,000 and would likely raze the building and convert the property to a parking lot if the sale is completed. The additional parking area, he said, would benefit existing businesses.
In response to a question from resident Glenn Hecox, the mayor also conceded his job in the private sector had taken him out of town frequently and he missed on average one council meeting a month.
He has since changed jobs and will be out of town no more than 20 weeks a year, the mayor said, noting he has been able to return calls to constituents quickly even when he was out of the village.
He told the residents he’s donated his mayoral salary of $7,200 back to the village.
In response to another question, Mayor Wilczynski said he’s open to studying the viability of allowing vehicles such as golf carts to be used on public roadways.
He also defended the village’s purchase of a building on Drouillard Road in 2009 for $70,000 and then allocating another $10,000 to upgrade the building and property, using village labor.
The building is being leased to Professional Transportation, Inc., which had been located on Main Street but was looking for another location, including possibly leaving the village.
Because village workers faced time constraints and PTI was eyeing other sites, the administration retained a private contractor, Granata & Hack Construction Co., and renovation costs soared to $47,000.
The mayor said the village will recoup its investment through lease payments and income taxes from PTI personnel but told residents he could only estimate what the tax payments are.
Ed Kolanko, a member of village council’s finance committee, was vocal at the time in his frustration with the administration over how the renovation was handled and claimed much of the pertinent cost information was kept from council.
Challengers Liwo and Murphy told The Press the village’s street repair program has been administered poorly.
Murphy said he would restructure council meetings to accommodate more input from the public prior to ordinances being passed.
“I want council to hear what residents want for their village,” he said. “They want things done with fiscal responsibility and some common sense.”
He also said he’d work to attract more business to the downtown district, calling it “vital” for the village to attract small businesses.
The mayor said the village has improved operations in the police department where there has been a revolving door of chiefs.
Murphy said he would watch the department to see it is working in a fiscally responsible manner and would consider other options, such as contracting with Lake Township for police service, only after seeking input from residents.
Liwo was appointed clerk-treasurer of the village and then to a seat on council when the village adopted a fiscal officer position to replace the clerk-treasurer – an elected post. He resigned his council seat two years ago.
He too has been critical of the PTI building project because the administration didn’t put the project up for competitive bidding.
One of Liwo’s priorities would be to fill the village administrator’s post.
“Along with council, we will develop a position description and pay scale for this critical position,” his website says. “I will ensure that this position will be advertised and filled through a process that will allow all qualified applicants a fair and equal opportunity.”
The post has been vacant for about a year.
He said he would give parks and the municipal swimming pool “equal weight” in the budget process.
Nathan Eikost, a candidate for one of the two open council seats, said he’d work to improve communication between residents and that his experience as a member of the Lake Board of Education would be an asset.
Two other council candidates, incumbents Kathy Heldt and Maureen Jacobsen, attended the debate but didn’t participate in the questioning. Jacobsen said the event was planned as a mayoral debate. Fred Sloyer is also running for a council seat.
Tim Krugh, Lake school board president, spoke briefly and promoted the district’s 4.75-mill operating levy on Tuesday’s ballot. He stressed no levy funds would be used in the construction of a new high school building.