The Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce and Boyne City Gazette news agency are sponsoring a Boyne City Commission candidate forum at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 8, in the community room of the Boyne District Library.
The four candidates, who will be competing in the Nov. 3 election for two positions on the city commission, are—in order of most votes received in the August primary race—Hugh Conklin, Tom Neidhamer, Gary Mellon and Leslie Neilson.
Absentee ballots are now available for the Nov. 3 election.
If you are a city resident and wish to receive one, stop by Boyne City Hall to fill out an application, or call 582-6597 and they can mail or e-mail the application to you.
Applications for the ballot received by mail must reach the city no later than 2 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 31.
Ballots will be accepted on Election Day until 8 p.m.
The following article includes highlights of the final four candidates’ comments from the forum held for the August primary election. Hugh Conklin did not attend the event. However, an interview with him is included following the article below.
The event was co-moderated by Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann and Boyne City Gazette Publisher Chris Faulknor.
The candidate forum opened with each candidate speaking about themselves for one minute.
Boyne City native Neidhamer spoke first.
“I grew up in Boyne City,” he said. “I finished my teaching career in Boyne City for 25 years, and coaching. I raised my family here. I’m very passionate about our town.”
Now having served nearly one full term as a Boyne City Commissioner, Neidhamer has also served on the Boyne City Planning Commission for more than 20 years.
Neidhamer said he is running again because he believes the city is moving in the right direction.
“I have the time and I have the passion, and I think I have the communication skills to be a positive addition to our city commission,” he said.
Neilson, a local business owner, has lived in Boyne for nearly 15 years.
“My husband and I got married in July of 2000, and we spent our honeymoon at the Dilworth (Hotel) setting up our store,” she said. “We had met at Boyne Mountain and decided this would be a good place to live and raise a family.”
Neilson said when she first moved here, several business owners told her she would be smart to open her business at Memorial Day and close it by Labor Day.
However, Neilson said she wanted to live here and raise a family. So, she and her husband opened their store year-round.
“We didn’t listen to that,” she said. “And, obviously, Boyne isn’t that type of town.”
Neilson said she was hesitant to run for local office before for fear of it harming her business but she said she now wants to stand up for what she believes.
Mellon, a retired optometrist, raised his children in Boyne City and has served on the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education. Mellon has also served on the Boyne City Airport Advisory Board.
Mellon said his main concerns include preserving Boyne’s beachfront, and ensuring local contractors work on the new city hall.
Gaylord, also in his first term as a city commissioner, has been a resident in Boyne City for nearly 20 years, and has worked with the Charlevoix County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 23 years.
“It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Gaylord said of serving on the commission. “The ability and the responsibility, I have taken extremely seriously.”
He added, “When I sat here almost four years ago, I said I would come in and represent all of Boyne City, not just certain select groups or individuals, and I feel I’ve done that very well.”
Gaylord said he looks forward to continuing to work for the citizens to help maintain Boyne City as a crown jewel of Northern Michigan.
Question #1 – What are the top two things you want to accomplish if chosen?
Neilson said she would like to see some recycling implemented.
“I don’t think it’s wise in this day and age to not be proactive in that,” she said… “And, the second thing that I would like to see is just protecting our waterways, whether it be the developments that we have along our waterways or just our water in general.”
Neilson said there are a lot of prescription drugs that end up in the water supply.
Mellon restated his two main goals would be to secure the 475 North Lake St. property through grants or by private fundraising, and jobs. He said he wants to use as many people from Boyne City as possible on the city’s major facilities reconstruction projects.
Gaylord said one of his first goals would be to continue to look out for the fiscal status of Boyne City and making wise decisions with the taxpayers’ money.
He also said the city needs to make a proper and inviting climate which will entice business owners to move to the area.
Neidhamer gave a quick review of what has been accomplished over the past few years. His list included work on the city facilities project, Safe Routes to school, the Dilworth and Glen Catt projects, non-motorized trails and Avalanche Park improvements.
“All of these are a combination of creating a town where people want to live, work and play,” Neidhamer said. “They’re all interrelated … we’ve had a great two years and I want to continue it.”
Question #2 – How should Boyne City balance the need for economic stimulus with the importance of maintaining its small-town appeal?
Mellon said he believes the city has set the proper tone by the events it offers throughout the summer that help create an atmosphere of a quality of life that makes business owners want to live and do business here.
Mellon said he believes any business owners who come to Boyne because of all it has to offer would want to maintain that atmosphere.
Gaylord said the best way to do that is what Boyne City does “incredibly well” already: input from the citizens and visitors combined with strong fiscal responsibility.
“As we look at each piece of whatever part of the puzzle we’re looking at, we find out ‘How does that fit in?’ And, as to the question, does that make sure that that is how Boyne wants to look moving forward,” Gaylord said. “I think it is imperative that we have the input from our residents and our business owners to continue to make Boyne City a great place to live and work.”
He added, “I feel that we’re doing that and I will continue to keep that a priority if reelected.”
Neidhamer said what Boyne City has going that is so important for it is a partnership among Boyne’s municipal leaders, its chamber of commerce and its Main Street program.
“They’ve created a place where people want to come,” he said. “Also happening is some really good, smart people are working behind the scenes to make that magic.”
Neidhamer said it is the city commission’s job to set policy that helps make those partnerships and efforts work.
Neilson said there are very few communities which have a chamber of commerce, a Main Street program and city leaders who work well together.
“Everybody’s kind of on the same page,” she said. “There’s nobody that has an agenda that’s working over here toward big business … but, then, if somebody is there’s a system of checks and balances.”
Neilson said she wants to be a part of that system of checks and balances.
Question #3 – What is your position on the new city facilities issue?
Gaylord said he supported the absolute concept of it and, through consultation and feedback, thought it would be smart to build the new facilities as the city has the money to afford it. He said the project is needed and will beautify the waterfront.
Neidhamer said the city simply needs new facilities.
“We have a new school, we a new library, we have a new downtown, we have new streetscapes, we have new businesses … and the last sore sport was our city facilities,” he said. “We, as commissioners—as a city—owed it to our policemen, and our firemen, and our EMS people to have new facilities.”
Neilson said she agreed the facilities needed to be replaced but that she feels they should have been moved off the waterfront.
Neilson said there were two market studies created in recent years that both said the facilities should have been moved off the waterfront.
She added that the citizens have spoken on the matter.
Mellon said he was also in favor of the city facilities improvement project.
He had also questioned the location but said he later was educated about emergency services response times and realized that the city’s current facility location is the best place for it.
Mellon said he would like to see that adequate funds are available for upkeep on the new facilities once they are constructed.
Question #4 – If you could change one decision of the city commission over the past year, what would it be?
Neidhamer said he was the only one in favor in a 4-1 vote to allow downtown restaurants to serve alcohol outside. He said he felt it would have been a boon to business but added that the matter has been decided.
Neilson agreed with Neidhamer that the city is missing out on an opportunity to allow businesses more flexibility to serve alcohol in outdoor patio areas that may extend onto the sidewalks.
Mellon said he felt the banning of the food trucks from the city was a bad idea. More options attract more people, Mellon said
Gaylord said he initially voted against the dog park but as time went on he saw tremendous support and later changed his mind. He added that he has no problem admitting that he was wrong, and that the dog park is an asset to the city.
Question #5 – How can the 475 North Lake St. property be paid for and what should happen to it?
Neilson said Boyne City needs more lodging, which could go on what is currently waterfront open space.
Mellon said he is definitely in favor of keeping the open space open.
“They’re not making that kind of land anymore,” he said, adding that grants and private donations could be used to pay for the property.
Gaylord said it would be an “absolute no-brainer” to maintain the property as open park space for the public.
He added that DNR grants can be applied for and he has no doubt that funding can be garnered to maintain the open space.
Neidhamer agreed with Gaylord, adding that Boyne City loves natural resources, and having that open park space for the public is the only right thing to do with the property.
Question #1 – How do you value view corridors to the lake—important or not important?
Mellon said he felt they are very important.
“It adds to the beauty of our town instead of seeing massive structures obstructing your view,” he said, adding that this issue must be kept in the forefront during planning for the future of the city.
Gaylord referred back to the issue of the 475 North Lake St. property, saying that the view of the lake is of big importance.
“We have mechanisms in place through planning and zoning to ensure that those are continued and looked as as we move forward with building projects,” he said.
Neidhamer said that is exactly what the planning commission does—ensures the size, location, parking, and other issues are inline with Boyne City’s character to make sure the development is an asset to the community and not too overbuilt on the lot.
Neilson said view corridors are very important but questioned how Boyne City officials have gone about maintaining them. She said they have had opportunities in the past and “blew it.”
Question #2 – What was your stance on the fluoride issue when it came up, and how do you feel about it now.
Gaylord was not supportive of the fluoridation of Boyne City’s municipal water supply.
However, he said there is a process in place and the citizens made their voice known on the matter—which is that fluoride should remain in the water. He said his opinion never changed, but that he respects the process.
Neidhamer, who remained a proponent of water fluoridation, read from a prepared statement which listed numerous organizations which support water fluoridation. Neidhamer closed by saying that the experts on the matter should be trusted.
Neilson said she is opposed to water fluoridation. Neilson listed numerous health conditions which she claimed are caused by the use of fluoride in the water.
Neilson said she will continue to educate people on fluoride.
Mellon said he was surprised that the issue ever became an issue. He said he supports fluoride use and is definitely for keeping it. He added that the people have spoken on the matter.
Question #3 – If a city employee was found doing an unacceptable job, what would they do?
Neidhamer said he would take the issue to the person’s supervisor.
“I would not chastise the publicly,” he said, adding that it is not his job to hire or evaluate employees other than the city manager.
Neilson said she would also take the matter to the individual’s supervisor.
Mellon said there is a structure in place that must be followed when dealing with employee issues.
Gaylord said the chain of command is what must be followed in such a case.
Question #4 – What do you like best about Boyne City government?
Neilson said she likes that people are approachable and civil to each other and how well the many groups work together.
Mellon said the government is approachable, and he has not found anybody who won’t discuss issues with him.
Gaylord said despite having different perspectives, the city officials all have the common goal of doing what’s best for Boyne City.
Neidhamer said collaboration, communication, working together and utilizing the power of partnerships are what he likes best.
Question #5 – What do you like least about Boyne City Government?
Mellon said the authority to suspend certain issues—like the city commission reversing a vote of the people on the fluoride matter—is what he likes least.
Gaylord said what he least likes is having to follow state or federal mandates or requirements which hinder the city’s work.
He said it is the most frustrating aspect.
Neidhamer said it can be difficult to work with the state and federal government sometimes. He also said the slow pace of some projects are frustrating.
Neilson said her biggest issue is how the city commission meetings are run. She requested to be put on the agenda and was denied and was not allowed to speak at a meeting because she arrived late to a meeting.
She said there is a bit of “good old boy” issues occurring.
Question #6 – Who would you pattern your behavior after as a city commissioner?
Gaylord said Ronald Reagan, adding that Reagan spoke boldly and with conviction and was forthright.
Neidhamer said Boyne City’s Mayor Ron Grunch is a good role model when it comes to governance. He also cited former Boyne City Mayor Eleanor Stackus and fellow candidate Conklin.
Neilson said she looks up to Laura Sansom, saying that she does her research and due diligence, and is passionate about Boyne City. She also cited Elizabeth Warren as a role model.
Mellon also cited Grunch as a good role model because he is fair, open and approachable.
Question #7 – If you could bring a business to Boyne City, what would it be; and, what is your favorite business in town?
Neidhamer said his favorite business is Magnum Hospitality, which owns Cafe Sante and Red Mesa Grill. Neidhamer said he would like to see an “anchor” store of some type, which would bring in other businesses. (Not a store that sells anchors)
Neilson also cited Magnum Hospitality as her favorite local business. A business she would like to see is something that offers lodging.
Mellon said the industrial park provides good jobs and benefits. He would like to see another option as far as a grocery store in town.
Gaylord said his favorite business is all of them. He said each one is important and they all work to make up Boyne’s economic vitality. What he would like to see is maybe something in the tech sector to locate in the industrial park.
The final question asked pertained to the need for affordable housing and how commissioners would work to achieve that.
Mellon said he isn’t sure how to deal with the issue. He said perhaps there are programs which could be utilized.
Gaylord said discussions could be had on zoning and planning that might allow people with second homes to rent them out without being penalized for doing so.
Neidhamer said the city commission has to continue to pursue any and all options and use creative thinking to help create more affordable housing.
Neilson said Boyne City is losing young families, and those young families need affordable housing or they cannot live locally. She added that the loss of young families is having a negative affect on the local schools.
Gaylord said his time as a commissioner serving the citizens has been very rewarding, and he looks forward to continue serving the people, adding that he wants the citizens to feel comfortable coming to him with concerns and questions on matters that affect the city.
Neidhamer said the city has so many projects ongoing that he would like the opportunity to continue working on them. He said Boyne City is in a perfect storm of economic development that will keep the city moving forward.
Neilson said as a commissioner it is important to avoid getting tunnel vision, and as a younger commissioner she feels she can bring some new ideas to the city. She added that it is important to continue educating people and not become complacent in how things have always been done in the past.
Mellon said the city has changed greatly over the past 40 years, and it his desire to help continue nurturing Boyne City’s growth. He said he has the time, the desire and the approachability to do the right thing for Boyne City.
“I’m running because I think I have a lot to offer the community,” said Hugh Conklin, former Main Street Program Director. “I understand the community, I know the community and I understand the issues.”
He added, “I think I’m a good team player and I can bring a lot of creativity to problem-solving.”
Conklin is retired but volunteers as a mediator for Northern Community Meditation, as well as working with Challenge Mountain and Unity Hall.
“I think I have a lot to offer but there’s a lot of good interested people who I think have the community’s best interest at heart,” he said…. “I’ve been involved with the community for a long time—we raised our family here and I think I could bring good energy and a cooperative feeling to the situation.”
Conklin said he has no specific agenda coming into the race.
“The respect I have for the community is motivating me to do this,” he said. “And, what the issues are today may be more different than what they are after November’s election.”