Traverse City News and Events

City Commission To Seek Replacement For Walter, Who Leaves For County Jan 1

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 15, 2022

Traverse City commissioners will accept applications and hold public interviews to find a replacement for Commissioner Ashlea Walter, who will resign from the city commission at the end of the year after being elected to the Grand Traverse County board of commissioners. City commission appointee openings have historically generated significant interest – an average of 10-15 applications, according to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette – with the selected individual to serve the rest of Walter’s term through November 13, 2023.

City commissioners discussed the process for replacing Walter at one of two city meetings Monday night, which included both an organizational meeting and a study session. Walter, who has served on the city commission since 2019, ran for District 3 in Grand Traverse County this year, handily winning the race last week as a Democrat with 60.74 percent of the votes compared to challengers Republican Joe Welsh (35.66 percent) and Green Party candidate Tom Mair (3.6 percent). She will join the county commission starting January 1, making December 31 her last day as a city commissioner. Walter previously told The Ticker she decided to file for county commission even though her term is not up on the city commission because she feels there's a "leadership void that needs to be filled at the county level." She added: "I've gotten some great insights working on issues as a city that should really be addressed at the regional level, like the affordable housing crisis.”

The five city commissioners present Monday – Commissioner Mi Stanley and Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe were absent – agreed to a process that will include selecting an appointee who will serve out the rest of Walter’s term next year, with that seat then up for election in November 2023. The only other alternative would have been to appoint someone until May, hold a special election in May for a term that would only last through November, and then put that same seat up again for election in November. Marentette advised against that approach, with Mayor Richard Lewis also pointing out that commissioners have historically chosen appointees to fill a seat until the next general election is held.

“I would recommend we continue that tradition,” Lewis said. “It has served us well.” Recent appointee examples include former Commissioner Michele Howard – who was selected from a field of 11 applicants in December 2016 to fill a term through the following November – and former Commissioner Roger Putman, who was also chosen from among 11 applicants in September 2018 to fill a seat through the following November.

Commissioners agreed to post the opening publicly and accept letters of interest – including details on why a potential candidate is interested in serving and what they believe they’d meaningfully contribute as commissioner – until 5pm on Wednesday, November 30. Letters of interest can be submitted electronically or in person to the city clerk’s office. Applicants must be registered city voters who are at least 18 years old. If 12 or fewer applications are received, Marentette said commissioners could likely conduct all the interviews in one day. More than 12 applications could require multiple interview dates. Commissioners have not yet scheduled the interview dates, but with some board members traveling in December, they agreed interviews will likely need to take place between December 12 and 23 to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

Commissioners also discussed the process for interviewing candidates Monday. Marentette recommended interviewing candidates one-on-one and requesting – though it can’t be required due to the Open Meetings Act – that other candidates wait in the hall so as not to overhear answers and to give original responses to questions. Commissioners could then use a ranked-choice voting system to narrow down candidates. If there were 12 candidates, for instance, each commissioner would rank their choices 1-12 electronically and those choices would be weighted by ranking to generate a prioritized list of preferred candidates among commissioners. Even using that system, commissioners could still then discuss the top choices and would be required to make a motion – with at least four commissioners in support – to appoint a specific candidate to the board.

While past resigning city commissioners have typically left the board before an appointee was selected, that won’t be the case with Walter. Because she’s still serving as a city commissioner through the end of December, Lewis told Walter it was up to her if she wanted to participate in the process. Marentette confirmed it was her option procedurally. “I think this is a first,” Marentette said. Walter told The Ticker after the meeting that she’s “planning on participating at this point.”

Also at Monday’s city commission meetings…
> Commissioners touched base on their desired list of spending priorities for $1.65 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds ahead of an official vote next Monday on funding allocations. Commissioners previously agreed to spend approximately $113,000 toward one-time $500 bonuses to city employees – including Traverse City Light & Power and Downtown Development Authority staff – and $200,000 on tree plantings throughout the city. Commissioners expressed support for another $1.015 million in spending Monday, including:

> $500,000 toward the reconstruction of the Traverse City Senior Center
> $250,000 toward addressing inflow and infiltration issues in the city’s sewer system
> $150,000 for the construction of gender-neutral restrooms at city fire stations
> $75,000 for a grant writer to pursue additional federal funding opportunities
> $40,000 to support a day shelter at the Jubilee House (with funds ideally to be used as a match toward other grants)

Those projects would leave $325,866 in ARPA funds still remaining, with city staff recommending putting them toward a planned new city housing fund. City Manager Marty Colburn told commissioners Monday he plans to bring a draft policy for how that fund would operate for their review December 5.

> Commissioners heard a presentation from DDA staff on a series of parking recommendations downtown will consider pursuing over the next several years as part of an updated transportation demand management (TDM) study. The DDA manages parking on behalf of the city. Recommendations call for reducing rates at the Old Town Parking Deck (something the DDA has already begun implementing), eliminating annual permits in favor of monthly permits that can be price-adjusted seasonally, changing meter enforcement hours from 8am-6pm to 10-8pm, and creating flexible loading zones in certain locations (which could be used for street parking during non-delivery hours). Commissioners were invited to share feedback on the plan over the next month before the DDA board adopts a final version in January.

> Finally, city commissioners reappointed Commissioner Mitch Treadwell and Chair David Hassing to the city’s planning commission. Newcomer David Knapp – a licensed architect and real estate broker – was also appointed to the planning commission at the recommendation of a commission ad hoc committee. At the request of Commissioner Mark Wilson – who also sits on the planning commission – commissioners agreed to revisit Wilson’s appointment to the planning commission in January once a full city commission is in place to potentially appoint another commissioner to take his spot on that board.

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