4 vying for 2 council seats

ALPENA — Voters in the City of Alpena are going to have their choice of five candidates to fill a pair of municipal council seats during Tuesday’s election. There will only be one name on the ballot, however, as there are four write-in candidates.

Incumbent Cindy Johnson’s name will be on the ballot. She won her seat on council as a write-in candidate in 2014. Thomas VanDuinen, Rick Rafferty, Amber Hess and Calvin Howard have all filed as write-in candidates.

Johnson said she enjoys being on council, being the voice of the residents and working hard to make Alpena the best it can be. She said she also wants to continue to play a large role in helping the city continue to grow and vows to continue to work hard to make sure that happens.

“I love what I am doing, moving things forward and making improvements,” Johnson said. “I love working with people who have complaints or compliments and I love working with others to solve problems. I love all of it.”

Johnson has been part of some difficult votes during her term. She voted no on a two-way traffic plan for Second Avenue, which passed, but was later reversed and she voted to move forward with litigation against the township over water and sewer rates. She said before voting she studied the issue and believed it was the right move to seek legal action against the township. Johnson said she is hopeful a middle ground can be reached and a new deal between the two sides can be reached so further litigation can be avoided.

“We have a good working relationship with the new township board and staff and we’re building a relationship,” she said. “I do not like the fact that we are at this point. Is it necessary? It is. We have to do what is in the best interest of the city residents so they don’t subsidize the township, but also that the township gets a fair value for the product we are sending.”

VanDuinen, who is a local businessman, said current council spends money are the two main reason he decided to run as a write-in candidate. He said working with and talking to neighbors is the right way to settle disputes, not taking them to court.

“The city has poured so much money down the drain that it is utterly ridiculous,” VanDuinen said. “The lawsuit is so far over the line that I don’t have the words to describe it. It is not the way you do business. I figured I need to try to get elected or shut up about the issue.”

Hess decided to run because she loves Alpena and wants to play a role in its future and believes she has the passion and ability to work on issues

“I keep up with what is going on and believe I can be a good voice for the people,” Hess said. “I care about the community and would like to get involved in helping continue the direction we are going.”

Rafferty was a police officer for 20 years and worked with with the city council in Rockford. He said when he learned there was only one candidate to file for the election, he was disappointed and decided it was time to get involved. Rafferty said his knowledge and experience of working with city government has prepared him for this opportunity.

“It bothered me,” Rafferty said of there not being enough people who filed for the election. “Then I read the council could appoint someone and it bothered me more. I felt spurred to action and felt it was something I needed to do. I believe it is my civic duty and the people deserve a choice.”

Like the other candidates, Rafferty believes ending the litigation with the township is paramount. He said it is costly and in order to work together on other issues this one needs to be resolved, and the quicker the better.

“We need to get closure on it the way it is being handled now is not good and I think we need a resolution to it as soon as possible,” he said.

Some future issues for council will be whether or not to allow a medical marijuana business to open in the city, and decide if a plan to build a RV park at Mich-e-ke-wis Park is a good use for it.

Hess said making the park a campground isn’t what she would want.

“I think there are better things to do with it,” Hess said. “I mean maybe we could make some improvements, but I don’t think a campground it a good fit.”

Johnson didn’t want to commit one way or the other because she hasn’t see a plan yet. She said the plan would have to be one that a majority of the people agree to, which wasn’t the case the last time it was considered.

“I was on planning commission then and I remember that the people didn’t want it,” she said. “I will have an open mind and do my homework, but I think we should get the opinions of as many residents as we can.”

VanDuinen said he doesn’t want to see an RV park on the beach.

“There isn’t much waterfront property left and I think we need to preserve what we have,” VanDuinen said. “It is very limited and to put anything there that would prevent people from going down to or looking at the water I’m not a supporter of.”

Like Johnson, Rafferty said he will keep an open mind about the idea, but said there have been people who have expressed they don’t want a campground at Mich-e-ke-wis, while others support it.

“There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on this one and I understand both sides of the argument,” Rafferty said. “Personally I don’t like the idea. I think there is a lot of waterfront there that can be utilized for everybody, not just campers.”

Each of the candidates has the same view on tax abatement granted from the city to business wishing to build or expand in the city.

Johnson said the current council customizes tax breaks to fit each request and base the amount and length on how many jobs are created and how much is spent on investment. VanDuinen, Rafferty and Hess said abatements are a good tool to help attract businesses, but finding a way to ensure the business owner holds up to their end of the bargain is a must.

Calvin Howard also filed to be a write-in candidate, but did not take part in a recent League of WomenVoters candidate forum, and declined to be interviewed by The News.

The election is Tuesday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.