You Asked, They Answered: Is the City Commission Majoring in the Minors?

Royal Oak City Commission candidates - Sharlan Douglas, Diane Hargan, Jeremy Mahrle and David Poulton - answer Patch readers' questions.

Royal Oak City Hall. Credit: Patch File Photo
Royal Oak City Hall. Credit: Patch File Photo

The four candidates vying to fill three seats on the Royal Oak City Commission— Sharlan Douglas, Diane Hargan, Jeremy Mahrle and David Poulton — agreed to answer five questions submitted by Patch readers, with Royal Oak Patch choosing the questions.

The City Election is Nov. 5.

Below are the answers to a question from Keith Wissman, who asked:

"Some citizens, myself included, are concerned that in recent years the City Commission has been majoring in the minors. The dog ordinance, the human rights ordinance, the fence ordinance for examples. What is your opinion on this? Regarding your opinion how does that get implemented in the coming years?"

Sharlan Douglas: The city commission must respond to the issues that come before it, large and small. This is government at its smallest. It’s what we’re here for.

I’ve knocked on several thousand doors so far in this campaign and can tell you that the “majors,” like legacy costs and street repairs, are not high in the minds of the voters. These are not sexy topics. They’re long-term decisions and not often on the agenda. Few people come to the microphone at a commission meeting to talk about them, but they are vitally important. We will probably take action to solve these problems in the next four years so, if I’m elected, I will have to make some hard decisions. The “majors,” as you put it, are definitely on the horizon.

Diane Hargan: Thank you Keith! Here's my buzzword - PRIORITIZE. I prioritize and make lists for everything. My family is constantly making fun of all the lists I make. When my sister comes to visit, she occasionally hides my lists in order to torment me. But that's how I get things done. The city, and every other level of government for that matter, needs to make a list of things to do and then prioritize the list. That doesn't mean that you can't address more than one issue at a time, but it does mean that you're consistently searching for and developing solutions for the things at the top of the list. My priority list would start with unfunded liabilities, then move to fire/police, garbage, roads, and additional infrastructure in that order.

Jeremy Mahrle: I don’t think that any of those issues can be considered “minor.” 

While there may have been better ways to go about it, enforcing the dog license ordinance is an important issue.  Now, if someone were to be bit by a dog, it is significantly less likely that they will have to receive a painful series of rabies shots. I do not see a dog census being an annual occurrence – as the City Manager has stated it is more likely a 5-year cycle – but it did indeed serve a purpose. 

Even more important is the Human Rights Ordinance.  Currently in the State of Michigan – and in Royal Oak – a person can be fired or denied housing or employment on the basis of their sexual orientation, for being transgender, for being HIV positive, or even just appearing to fit any of those categories. 

If Royal Oak hopes to be a family-friendly, forward-thinking community that is seen as a leader in Southeast Oakland County, we cannot shy away from difficult issues like the HRO.  I believe we should join our neighboring communities – progressive cities like Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge to affluent cities like Huntington Woods and Birmingham – and nearly 30 communities across Michigan in passing this important ordinance.  In fact, most large businesses, and even the Boy Scouts of America, have begun instituting policies of inclusion. 

Royal Oak cannot be left behind by abandoning the values of fairness and equality.

The fence ordinance is an issue that did get a little out of hand. While it is still an issue that we need to remedy – we have documented examples of pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by cars backing out of “blind” driveways – there certainly was a better way to go about it.  The Commission acted wisely to cease the enforcement of the ordinance while alternatives such as parabolic mirrors or sensing systems are researched and considered.  It is unfortunate that some residents had already proceeded with fence modifications before being informed that the changes were not necessary, although their driveways are certainly safer than they were before. 

David Poulton: I agree there are issues which demand a much greater amount of attention than others.  That being said, my position as City Commissioner is to represent all individuals and handle both big and small items of concern.

It is the job of the City Commission to address issues that will keep Royal Oak safe and financially secure.  Some of these issues are complex, such as city operations, fiscal budget and public safety.  Other issues are items like you have mentioned, but to those people affected, it is a priority, so we try to do our best to address all of our residents’ concerns.

However, as a City Commission, we must remain focused on matters that will enhance our property values and allow us to remain a strong, vibrant and safe community.

Come back tomorrow when candidates answer this question from Nate McAlpineWhat is the most important thing you would like to accomplish if elected?

Previous questions

  • As our city's demographics continue to change with a smaller and older population (many young families move to outer ring suburbs when the kids show up) what is your 10 year vision for the city? With that vision what are your strategies and tactical ideas to get us there? Click here for answers.
  • Royal Oak still has a half dozen outdated and dangerous motels that are havens for parole absconders. Do you have a plan on disposing the remaining? Click here for answers.
  • How are you going to address the problems with rats throughout the city? Click here for answers.
Bob September 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM
There really is no reason to go to the polls this November. I'll let the rest of you fight over the HRO. Think I'll just sit this one out.


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