What in your education and experience make you the best qualified candidate for this position?
I was born and raised in Ypsilanti, and earned my Bachelor of Arts from Eastern Michigan University in 1990. I know this community and its people. I have a first-hand understanding of EMU, and how important it is as a partner for our city. I have spent my career building a small downtown company into a solid employer of over 60 employees. This requires a strong set of skills in finance, management, and the building of human relationships. Moreover, it requires an ability to focus on the essential, and a capacity to use resources effectively. Ypsilanti is facing serious challenges - many related to past mismanagement of resources - and would benefit from having a council person with this type of expertise. I am prepared to serve, but also understand the importance of seeking the advice and input from all members of our community.
What are your goals should you be elected and how will you work to accomplish them with currently limited resources?
My first goal is to review all pending activity under the purview of City Council, to prioritize the order of business from most important to least important. City Council has only limited time to study issues and formulate policy, and it is crucial that this time is used effectively - particularly in light of impending budget crunches. We do not have much time to “right the ship” before money gets tight, so it is essential to move away from the current City Council habit of becoming tied up with distractions: minor or “feel good” projects that consume valuable time and dollars while larger problems loom. We need to focus on core city services, such as police and fire protection, and new and creative solutions require “thinking time.”
This is not to say that the arts, parks, festivals, and civic organizations are any less important to our quality of life. I hope to actively promote these by building collaborative networks, and to ensure that any necessary intersections with city departments and services are amicable and efficient for all involved. The city must be welcoming to any who would make this a better place to live.
Finally, City Council is comprised of only a few individuals, and no doubt many promising answers to our challenges fall outside its ken. It is currently an insular group, and would be well served with more cross-pollination of thought with a broader cross-section of our community. We have many intelligent and creative people in our city, and I hope to facilitate the formation of citizens’ groups that will study various topics and offer specific proposals to City Council. There are successful models of this approach in other Michigan cities.
Much is said about the consolidation of local governments into one. What savings for the City of Ypsilanti could be expected from merging with a nearby local government? Would consolidation with another local government have a down side?
Consolidation with another local government would definitely have a downside. It is essential that the City of Ypsilanti remains true to its heritage and identity. It would not be wise to sacrifice local control for some sort of short-term advantage.
This is not to say that there are no opportunities in reviewing and revising how we provide city services, and I would not necessarily rule out the possibility of contracting with nearby governments for certain city needs. Naturally, this would have to produce a substantive gain for the city, when all factors are considered. However, at this time, the data suggest that consolidation at the governmental level is ill-advised; and, on a personal level, I think it would tear out the heart of our beloved city. Fortunately, there are alternative ways to secure savings, and thereby maintain the financial viability of Ypsilanti.
How serious are the City of Ypsilanti financial problems?
The City of Ypsilanti is facing serious financial problems. There are three primary reasons: 1) A drop in property values and property-tax revenues, 2) Massive debt caused by City Council speculation on the Water Street project, and 3) Pension legacy costs.
The debt from Water Street, in particular, would be enough to put over 10 policemen or firemen on the streets today. Pension costs by 2017 will consume about 1 in 3 tax dollars – all for services provided in the past. Both situations were caused by careless management of city resources, and a deficit of critical thinking on City Council. I believe such mistakes would have been less likely if Council representation included more people with expertise in business, finance, and contracts. I hope to share that expertise.
How can the City of Ypsilanti government become more efficient?
In these challenging times, the city government must return to basics: providing safety, a hygienic environment, and the orderliness required for productive human activity. There have been too many sideshows lately, which divert limited resources to pet projects and “monument building” by city leaders. The city exists to serve its people, not to build the image of city elites. If city government places the emphasis on core services, the creative energy of the people will make this city flourish.
On a more concrete level, there are also efficiencies to be had by optimizing ordinances, improving permitting processes, rationalizing inspection protocol, creative scheduling of public-protection services, and modernizing of employment-benefit structures. I might add that it is not just about using city resources carefully; it is also about having rules and policies that enable efficient and successful activity by residents and businesses themselves. This promotes prosperity from a grassroots level, and therefore promotes the prosperity of the whole.
As the owner of a small business that has not only survived but grown in this recession, I have learned to seek out efficiency on a daily basis. Opportunities for higher efficiency are not always obvious from the budget-item headers: they often hide within the finer details of the accounting ledger. From my review of city budgets and policies, I am confident that there are still substantive improvements to be had.
Paid for by The Mike Eller Campaign Committee
708 Carver Ave., Ypsilanti, MI 48198