City Commission candidates outline views at CMU forum


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Many students may not know that Nov. 7 is an election day, but the candidates for Mount Pleasant City Commission want the Central Michigan University community to know they’re listening. 

Five of six City Commission candidates shared their views and answered questions at a forum organized by the Student Government Association on Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium. 

The commission comprises seven residents of Mount Pleasant who make decisions that impact students and non students alike. Two seats are up for contention in this year’s November election and the two incumbents aren’t running. 

The candidates present were as follows: 

Damian Fisher 

  • A CMU student of Industrial Technology, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and an attorney at GraySky & Associates PLLC. 

Fisher, who is also running for Tribal Commission, wants to build bridges among the various communities in Mount Pleasant including the city, the tribe and the university. 

“Government is a process, not a person or thing,” he said. “Governance is people crafting processes that are fair and inspire our faith in each other -- or at the very least stay out of the way of people helping people.” 

William Joseph

  • A CMU student, a former SGA member and a current member of the Planning Commission. 

Joseph enjoys the job of local government. He’s served on various committees at CMU and said he wants to expand Mount Pleasant’s recycling program, insure the stability of local infrastructure and bring residents and students together. 

“Doing committee work and putting on projects are things I’ve really enjoyed and get me out of bed and motivate me,” Joseph said. “If elected, I would bring together year-long residents and students.”

Kristin LaLonde

  • A CMU graduate student, a health sciences librarian at Mid-Michigan Health and a member of the Isabella County Council of Human Rights Committee. 

LaLonde describes herself as a problem solver and wants to improve the walkability of Mount Pleasant and work to clean the Chippewa River. She said a City Commissioner has the opportunity to unite people who are often working toward a common goal.

“My passion is solving problems, getting people together and I like knowing everything,” LaLonde said. “As a City Commissioner, you run into all these issues that need to be taken care of and (must) find the best person to help solve a problem.” 

Rick Rautanen

  • A former CMU student, a former City Commissioner and the current general manager of the future Holiday Inn. 

As a former City Commissioner, Rautanen often gets asked why he wants to serve again. He said there was a time when a common attitude was the city versus students, the townships and the tribe. He worked to change that attitude. 

“I’m frustrated with the progress, or lack thereof, that the community is making,” Rautanen said. “We have great minds and so much untapped potential walking around this campus. We are a college community and we have to embrace the students and the good they bring to the community -- I want to finish that work.” 

Amy Perschbacher 

  • A former CMU student, a downtown property project manager and a mental health therapist at Ronan Psychological Associates. 

A mother of four adult children, Perschbacher said now is the time to get involved. She came to Mount Pleasant and fell in love with the town, and said her experience as a student and business owner is what the commission needs. 

“I’m the kind of person where if we bring an issue to the table, there has to be a win-win,” Perschbacher said. “If somebody loses and feels they haven’t gotten something -- than the issue wasn’t worth talking about and we should do something different.”

Zoning ordinance 

Mount Pleasant’s new zoning ordinance was an inevitable point of conversation at the forum. The new code will impact the entire city and some residents have said the changes will hurt students and property owners. 

  • Rautanen said some residents, and commissioners, would gladly zone students “into a three block section, put a fence up and call it good.” He likes the diversity of Mount Pleasant and doesn’t want to “zone students away.” 
  • LaLonde likes most of the new ordinance. She wants to ensure that the area north of campus remains open to multi-residential housing. However, she said it’s difficult to find housing  and said the city has to improve the situation. 
  • Joseph said the long-term future of the area north of campus is in City Commissioners’ hands. He sees positives and negatives to the proposed re-zoning, but said it seems unlikely, at this time, that the area in question would be desirable to single families. 
  • Fisher appreciates the new ordinance’s approach to identifying the unique aspect of each neighborhood in Mount Pleasant. However, he said he has issues with authority and wants data that shows the area north of campus should be re-zoned. 
  • Perschbacher encouraged everyone to educate themselves on the new ordinance, which is available at mt-pleasant.org. She said students concerned about changes to the zoning code should get involved and communicate with city officials. 

Nuisance Parties

Trevor Metz, a senior in Integrative Public Relations, said he has seen a rise in mishandlings between the city and student population. He’s concerned about the rise in nuisance party violations and believes the Mount Pleasant Police Department is stifling the culture of CMU. 

“Talking to alumni of CMU, many have mentioned how (the town) looks much smaller and much less fun,” Metz said. “I’m not saying we have to party everyday, but in my five years here I have seen a saddening decrease in people being outside and doing things.” 

  • LaLonde wants to form a citizens advisory board for the MPPD. She said there’s value in having an outlet for students and residents to express their concerns to a third party. 
  • Joseph feels nuisance party penalties are extreme. He said the city and university are making a concerted effort to outline what’s expected from students, but said he’s willing to evaluate how Mount Pleasant approaches nuisance parties. 
  • For Fisher, the problem is an opposing perspective toward law enforcement and community policing. He said police have to get involved with their community and he would insist that officers get to know the people they’re working to protect. 
  • Perschbacher agreed with Fisher. She said students and residents must know each other, and both communities share the same values and should work together to find ways to support those values. 
  • Rautanen has ridden with police officers during Welcome Weekend and Homecoming. He said law enforcement can get frustrated with students, but added that every year the city has made progress toward reconciling students and officers. He agreed with Joseph that nuisance party violations should be reviewed. 

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