Boyne City Commission candidates discuss waterfront, city facilities, recycling at forum

BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR

Boyne City Commission candidates met for a second question and answer session on Tuesday Oct. 6 at the Boyne District Library.
Candidates Hugh Conklin, Tom Neidhamer, Gary Mellon and Leslie Neilson answered questions concerning Boyne City’s future and much more leading up to the Nov. 3 general election.

Candidate introductions
Conklin, who moved to Boyne City in 1994, is the former Boyne City Main Street Program Manager.
“I’ve been involved in the life of Boyne City since 1994, when my wife and I bought the Boyne Citizen—which, at the time, was called the Charlevoix County Press,” he said. “When you’re involved in community journalism, you get to know a community quickly and in-depth.”
Conklin added, “From the beginning, I was impressed with Boyne City.”
Conklin said the foundation of Boyne City has been built for the future, and it has tremendous potential.
“I think I am an open-minded person,” Conklin said. “I like to think of myself as thoughtful and listening, and I think I can bring a perspective to the city commission that, maybe, can enhance the quality of the community and continue to move Boyne City forward.”

• Lifelong Boyne City resident Neidhamer, a retired school teacher, coach, long-time—approximately 25 years—Boyne City Planning Commission member and incumbent Boyne City Commissioner, said he is running for another term because he is passionate about his town.
“I thought I brought a balanced, common sense approach,” he said. “I think that we’re doing a lot of good things and I would like to continue being part of that process.”

• Local realtor Gary Mellon, who has lived in Boyne City for 41 years, said he is running for a number of reasons.
“I was really impressed with the process that we’ve gone through in planning for our lakefront,” said Mellon, who added that he wants to have a direct hand in the future of Boyne City.
“We may not all agree with what needs to be done,” he said. “But, putting all the ideas together, we’re going to come up with the best plan.”

• Local business owner Leslie Neilson, who has lived in Boyne City for 15 years, said she is running to give the voiceless a voice.
“It’s been just a wonderful place to live,” she said. “The reason I’m running for city commissioner is because … a lot of the decisions that are made by the city commission affect downtown businesses, and sometimes I don’t feel like we get a voice.”
Neilson added that she tends to lend herself more to the younger generation and that she is environmentally driven.
“I want to protect our waterways (and) I’d love to see a city-wide recycling program implemented in Boyne City,” she said. “Even though some people say that Boyne City’s this trendsetter, I see us doing a lot of things that other communities are doing and we’re just following.”
Neilson added, “I think that there’s things that we could be doing differently and better.”

The candidates then answered a series of questions.

Question 1. The candidates were asked how they will ensure everyone they represent in a commission decision has a voice.
Neidhamer said he feels the city commission’s record has been very transparent in its business.
“I think the process of involving the community is very alive and well,” he said.
Neilson said this was a tough issue because she has had difficulty getting correspondence to the city commission, being denied the opportunity to be on the agenda, and that she had been cut short during public comment at a city commission meeting while others were allowed to speak longer.
She said she will make sure everyone has the opportunity to address the city commission.
Neilson said she had wanted to add a warning on city water bills that fluoridated water not be mixed with baby formula. She said she was denied being able to address the commission about the matter.
Conklin responded that the way the process works now already allows people to express themselves to the city commission.
“What I’ve kind of noticed is, sometimes, people think because you don’t do what they think you should do that you’re not listening to them when, maybe, basically, you’re just not agreeing with them,” he said. “And, so, we say that we’re not being listened to.”
Conklin said there can be chaos and disarray if procedures are not followed.
Mellon said he thinks most people believe their vote doesn’t really matter and that that causes relatively low public participation.
Mellon said he believes the way to improve public participation is to hold more informal discussions on issues.

Question 2. Candidates were asked what they think about the ‘Boyne on the Water’ planning process.
Neilson said she feels the process has been handled well but expressed disappointment that the new city facilities will be built on the waterfront where the current city facilities reside.
Conklin said he was disappointed, at first, that the Boyne on the Water planning seemed to be ignoring the city’s longtime plans for the future of the waterfront but he said he likes some of the potential changes mentioned thus far.
“Deep down, I was just really disappointed that we’re talking about this at the same time that we’re building the city hall and ignoring our waterfront master plan,” he said.
Mellon said the city-wide vote—which narrowly passed—to fund a $7 million new city facilities project did not specify where the city facilities will be located.
“I don’t see why city hall has to be there,” Mellon said, adding that he wants everyone’s input on where city hall will be located. He suggested moving city hall to Old City Park or the Honeywell property across the street from where city hall is currently.
Neidhamer said the whole Boyne on the Water planning process is the result of city staff writing a grant to pay for the planning process. He said he loves the open space, connect-ability of the parks, which would be connected by a walkway, improved restrooms, and other potential improvements suggested in the planning process.
Neidhamer said he believes city hall should remain on the waterfront.
“This process has been going on for 16 years. It’s been going on through three mayors and lots of different people sitting on the board,” he said, adding that the architects were handed 16 years worth of studies, and conceptual drawings were created which showed the potential city facilities.
“The reason it needs to be there, in my opinion, is that … you are creating a place where you want to be. You are creating placemaking. You are creating a place where people gather,” Neidhamer said, adding that it doesn’t make any sense to move the city’s facilities to a residential area or an industrial area or put it into a public park elsewhere.
Neilson said she doesn’t care what a town’s city hall looks like, and she doesn’t want to see their fire department or police facilities.
“It’s never too late,” she said, adding that the city hall could be moved to the old Carter’s grocery store location at the edge of town.
Conklin said the people of Boyne City already voted on the city facilities millage, adding that the premise was to keep all the city facilities in one location. But, he added, he has always felt people want the lakefront preserved and he wished the option would have been given to possibly move the city’s facilities elsewhere.
Conklin asked why the city’s emergency services building couldn’t be constructed separately elsewhere.
Neidhamer said you design placement of the city facilities and emergency services where people gather. Neidhamer said the voters who supported the city facilities millage knew the location would be on the waterfront.
Mellon reiterated that the vote was only to approve funding, not the location.
Neilson said the millage was presented in a way that said if you did not vote for the city facilities millage then you don’t love Boyne City and did not support police, fire and paramedics.

Question 3. Candidates were asked their opinion on the toxic playground issue.
Conklin said he feels terrible about the playground being contaminated with arsenic and said public safety is paramount, adding that it needs to be handled properly.
Mellon said the city should do everything in its power to maintain the playground.
Neidhamer said the playground is an asset to the community and he is very hopeful that it can be saved.
Neilson said she feels the issue has been handled correctly, and she likes the plan to attempt to save the structure.

Question 4. Candidates were asked if they feel Boyne City’s governmental operations are transparent enough.
Neidhamer said he feels the city’s operations have been egalitarian in his time, adding that the city has gone above and beyond other forms of government to share information with its citizenry.
Neilson said Boyne City does a good job sharing information with the public. She said the only thing at fault is the lack of participation among the general public.
Conklin said he thinks the city does plenty to keep the taxpayers informed.
Mellon agreed that Boyne City’s government is open and accessible to the voters.

Question 5. Candidates were asked about their stance on a city-wide, curbside recycling program.
Neilson reiterated her support for such a program.
“There’s no reason that we couldn’t be the first city that bans plastic bags or plastic water bottles,” she said. “Why can’t we?”
Conklin said he thinks what the city has now works pretty well but that he supports anything that supports the practice of recycling.
“If we can do it better, we should,” he said.
Mellon said he thinks it is more of a logistics problem than a philosophical problem.
“How do you work it out economically?” Mellon said is the main question.
Neidhamer said it all comes back to cost, adding that there is currently the ability for individuals to haul their recycling to the main location in Boyne City.
“We have studied this,” he said. “It’s not economically feasible at this point.”
Neidhamer clarified that it could be feasible but such a program would present additional cost to the city.

Question 6. Candidates were asked if they had any ideas about how to, or whether they would be willing to, lower the city’s operational millage rate to offset the recently approved millage to pay for the city’s new facilities project.
Conklin said, without having time to study the matter, he would have to say no. He said taxpayers knew what they were voting for.
“A community needs to invest in itself. And, it doesn’t come cheap,” he said. “You have to be thoughtful and prudent but you can’t be cheap and expect to have a quality community.”
Mellon said he doesn’t see how you can lower operational funds because the city is looking to add a major project.
“I don’t see how you can do it—add all this stuff—and think that we’re going to be able to operate it at a lower cost,” he said.
Neidhamer said the millage rate is at its lowest rate in 37 years. He said the city has been frugal with all its projects. And, he added, the city cannot make major improvements while cutting taxes further.
Neilson said she would not.

Question 7. Candidates were asked—now that a large grant seems like it will not be forthcoming—how they will fund improvements to the pavilion in Boyne’s Veterans Park.
Mellon said the project would be nice but if the funds are not available, then the project should be altered or postponed until money exists to complete it.
Neidhamer said the project should only be pursued as funding is available but explore every possibility to make the project happen.
Neilson said there is plenty of time to make the project happen in the future.
Conklin said there was another, less costly, design suggested early on, which could be looked at. He also said a year-round location for the Boyne City Farmers Market is important and should be a priority.

Closing statements
Neidhamer mentioned numerous projects the city has in the works over the next year or so, again saying he would like to remain an integral part of the city’s future.
Neilson asked people to consider her because she has an open mind unlike some people who are too attached to their ideas about how things need to be and how Boyne City needs to grow.
Conklin said Boyne City has been a great place for he and his family. He also said paying attention to details is very important to Boyne’s future.
“I hope that you share my vision and my point of view and that I can be successful as a city commission candidate,” he said.
Mellon spent his closing statement time to say that the 475 North Lake St. property, when acquired, should come with the stipulation that it can never be sold without support of 75 percent of the voters. This, he said, will ensure the lakefront property remains in the public trust for future generations.

Election Day
Two of the four candidates running for the Boyne City Commission will be elected on Tuesday Nov. 3.
The polls at Boyne City Hall, located at 319 North Lake St., will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

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