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Beline Obeid

October 10, 2013
Grosse Pointe Woods — The four candidates vying for three city council seats responded to voters questions and concerns as they participated last week in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Incumbents Vicki Granger, Kevin Ketels and Todd McConaghy and challenger Robert Sheehy met with residents to answer questions ranging from consolidation of city services with the other Pointes to placement of cellphone towers within the Woods.

The incumbents all agreed the top three issues facing the Woods are balancing the budget, maintaining city services and improving roads and all noted the city is currently maintaining city services with a reduced work force.

Sheehy, however, said his top priorities would be increasing the number of public safety officers and marketing the commercial district on Mack. He also said the city needs to study the impact of cellphone towers and the use of smart meters to measure residential utility usage.

Sheehy has been opposing the increase of cellphone towers in the Woods for several months, saying the need for additional towers has not been proven. He also challenges recent court rulings that say cities cannot use health concerns as a reason to deny requests by cellphone providers for additional towers.

"I understand because of federal law that we can't reject these towers, but does that make it right?" he asked. He said he has never had problems with cellphone service and said if a resident has a problem with service, they should change providers.

However, Kevin Ketels said adequate cellphone coverage is important for attracting young families, while Todd McConaghy said by law, if a cellphone provider meets necessary zoning requirements, the city cannot turn down a request for additional antennae.

Vicki Granger also added that a recent ruling by the Michigan Attorney General said cellphone tower requests don't need to be reviewed by municipalities.

One area all candidates agreed on was the need to explore consolidation of city services with the other Pointes.

"We need to ask how we can leverage our resources to maximize our services," Granger said, noting that the Pointes already participate in a mutual aid pact for public safety.

McConaghy also pointed out the state of Michigan is tying revenue sources to shared services.

When it comes to specific city services the Woods should maintain, there was unanimous agreement on retaining ambulance service.

"I would never consider privatizing ambulance service unless I was sure that we would have the exact same or better service," McConaghy said.

Sheehy agreed.

"This hits home. We have had to use the service and the first time it saved my wife's life," he said. "It is an important service and I would run the millage campaign for it myself, I would go door to door, to save it."

Granger pointed out the EMS employees also provide coverage in the fire station and help to maintain fire equipment.

However, there was disagreement on whether the city should continue leaf pick up in the fall, with Sheehy saying perhaps the city could look to returning to allowing citizens to burn leaves, while Ketels said he did not want to see Grosse Pointe Woods be the only Pointe not to offer curb side collection.

The candidates also discussed the viability of the Mack Avenue business district, and while the incumbents cite a 92 percent occupancy rate, Sheehy disagreed.

"There appears to be more," he said.

Granger said city records show 300 commercial buildings on Mack, with 20 vacant at this time.

"And there are five new businesses opening in the very near future," she said. "That 92 percent is something to be proud of."

Ketels agreed.

"I serve as chair of the Mack Avenue Study committee," he said, "and our occupancy rate is high in comparison with other commercial districts in the state. We work closely with our business owners. I'm proud of the many outdoor dining venues that have recently opened."

Ketels said the city has worked closely with Wayne County to streamline license applications for those eateries and simplified the process.

McConaghy noted he tries to do the majority of his shopping and dining in the Woods, and also agrees a 92 percent occupancy rate is very healthy in these tough economic times.

The entire forum is televised beginning at 7 p.m. through Oct. 13 on Comcast channel 22. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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