19 February 2013
"Royal Oak has great momentum. Now, let's build on it." . . . "When voters approved the millage, they took us out of crisis mode." . . . "While there is still work to be done to ensure our fiscal house is in order, we can now begin talking about a vision for the future.”
The man is obviously an optimist. To reflect DuBuc's tone, I almost feel compelled to end each of those sentences with an exclamation mark. Perhaps part of his upbeat mood was a result of having moved a few blocks in the last year to a new home to better fit his growing family: Kyle and his wife had their third child in July.
Discussing housing in general, Kyle expanded the frames of reference: "There is a surge of new housing going up in Royal Oak. In addition to the beautiful new homes being constructed on former school sites, developers are demolishing older small houses and building a 3- or 4-bedroom home on the same lot. These are the kind of options that attract young families who will make Royal Oak their home long term." He and I agreed that the School District favors the erection of houses large enough to attract families with school-age children. "There's a premium on buying a home in Royal Oak, but added to the general attractiveness of the city is our central geographic location. This increase in the diversity of our housing stock—particularly within a mile of downtown—makes our city a very appealing option to growing families and young professionals who desire the quality of life and amenities we offer, but also want a certain size and style of home.”
Kyle and I discussed some matters at length while just touching on others, and we covered nuts-and-bolts of specific city activities as well as broader thoughts re the role of local government.
Take the matter of behavior at The Table. "Our job when we’re in session is to add light to the discussion, to deliberate proposals and to take action, not to brainstorm." Of course, as legislators CITCOM must make decisions, but "We mustn't just make work for the Administration. The directives we pass along to departments must focus on matters that truly improve the quality of life for our residents by increasing home values, enhancing public safety, improving services or strengthening the local economy." The flip side of that it is that CITCOM's role also includes "providing checks and balances to the Administration," because, the commissioner agrees, institutional tension exists in any city between the elected and appointed officials.
We acknowledged that this being an election year, it will be difficult for Commissioners Rasor, Poulton, and Capello not to be suspected of campaigning at The Table whenever they take a vigorous stand on some issue “I guess the difference between genuinely working to serve the residents and political grandstanding is often in the eye of the beholder.”
Somewhere in there we exchanged impressions about City Manager Don Johnson. I mentioned that I was one of the residents involved in hoping that his excellent work as our Director of Finance would translate into his successfully filling the top job. Kyle's take: "Don is responsive and knowledgeable. He is the right guy at the right time." Right-guy-at-the-right-time segued into our speculating about possible candidates for commissioner later this year. We discussed three or four names but agreed that "It's kind of quiet out there."
Why his choice of "great momentum" for the current state of the city?
"Approval of the millage took us out of the crisis mode," yes, but what about down the line? Kyle hopes and expects that the current millage will be renewed. "I can't foresee any need to increase the rate — that would be a failure of leadership on our part" It has already stabilized police department staffing. "Residents make it clear that Public Safety -- police, fire, EMS -- is their top priority." A bit of a surprise: Both online and on the hard copy citizen survey, "economic development was the next highest priority after police, fire and EMS." The millage, and its extension, will help restore and stabilize some of the staffing and services that have been cut, he maintains, “we are already seeing the positive impact.”
Putting ideas like a Central Park out there "looks to the future, even if it's not presently doable." And DuBuc sees passing a Human Rights Ordinance as another positive step forward for the city.
Some of our nuts-and-bolts conversation looked at the committees on which DuBuc sits. About the role of a city commissioner sitting on citizen-staffed panels, Kyle says the elected officials should serve as a resource, perhaps an advisor, but the lead should come from the residents who volunteer to serve on those committees. Highlights of what is moving through the entities:
- Charter Review: "A couple of notions. One is to have the City Clerk hired by the City Manager. Currently CITCOM hires the Clerk .the City Attorney, and the City Manager. The second is to lower the age, from 25 to 21, to qualify to run for an elected position. "Seems logical. Young people are buying homes in our community and how do you tell someone that we’re happy to take your $3,000 a year in property taxes, but you legally have no place at the leadership table."
- Rehabilitation Board of Appeals: The major focus in the coming months will be to review applications for CDBG grant money and make a recommendation to the commission.
Environmental Advisory Committee: Continues to be a great resource for our residents with regard to making homes more energy efficient, how to keep utility bills low and promoting innovative environmentally friendly policies for the city and community businesses.
- City/School Liaison Committee: Continues to explore more synergies between the schools and the city that might result in cost savings for both and does a great job of keeping a line of communication open with regard to major projects and events happening within the school system and at the city level.
What about the atmosphere in commission chambers?
As we went around The Table and shared impressions. I came away understanding that the situation is a hundred times more cordial than it was during the previous CITCOM, but that the couple of blowups have left a residual uneasiness which, I suspect, falls short of being a real strain. Kyle uses one-on-one conversations with each of his colleagues to keep both the professional and personal relationships positive.
The nearest Kyle came to dodging a question was when I asked what really goes on in Room 309 during the closed session which precedes most CITCOM meetings. I pointed out that the facial expressions and body language of individuals as they came out of 309 sometimes make it clear that there had been heated debate." Rarely about what we will be dealing with at The Table" -- the same answer I get each time I ask any participant.
What about when some of them get together after a meeting or socially? "For the most part, the chatter is other than political. Sure, there may be an allusion to something going on at The Table, but we are always conscious of not violating the open meetings act and save serious discussion or any deliberation on a matter before the commission for when we are in session." For example, “futuristic visions, as about a Central Park may be batted about and may be mentioned at The Table, to keep it in everybody's mind's eye, but during our social conversations, it's brainstorming, not deliberating."
Kyle and his wife, Tara, have lived in Royal Oak for ten years and over the last four of those their family has grown by three.
Kyle currently works as the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. He has nine years of professional public policy experience, including five years advocating for the rights of seniors and people with disabilities with Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service; and four years working in the Michigan House of Representatives. Additionally, Kyle has managed a variety of successful political campaigns as an independent consultant.
He has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and served as a community health advocate with the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. He has a long history of volunteerism and community service and as a City Commissioner he currently serves on the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, Rehab Board of Appeals, Environmental Advisory Board, City/School Liaison Committee and the Charter Review Committee.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.