Q&A: Get to know the two newest city commissioners
George Ronan and Mary Alsager were elected as Mount Pleasant city commissioners on Nov. 4 and will start their new roles at the start of 2020. Both have a background in education and campaigned together to become commissioners.
Ronan is a current Central Michigan University faculty member in the psychology department and has been for the past 30 years. Alsager recently left the parks and recreation commission and is a former public school teacher.
Central Michigan Life sat down with Ronan and Alsager to talk about why they ran as commissioners and the issues they want to address.
CM Life: Why did you decide to run for city commissioners?
Alsager: I attended the 2018 (Mount Pleasant) Citizen’s Academy when I was first was approached to just think about (running for commissioner). This summer, I was asked to run and then I was ready to do it.
Ronan: Same thing. I completed the Mount Pleasant Citizen’s Academy in 2019. Some people approached me and asked me whether I would consider running for city commission and I agreed to it. Mount Pleasant has been very good to me and my family and it’s just the time to give back.
Alsager – why were you asked to run?
Alsager: I think I had some good numbers when people looked at my voting record and things like that. People knew I would be a good candidate.
Ronan: I think Mary was highly regarded in the community. People know Mary and they liked her and she represented the community really well.
Why did two you campaign together?
Alsager: Well we found early on that that we agreed on a lot of things. We went to a couple of meetings (other commissioner candidates) didn’t go to. So in that aspect, we kind of fell into it early on and found that we could work well together.
Ronan: We have some differences on some things, but I think we definitely agree on general strokes of what the city should be. A place that’s kind to the people that helps everybody.
What are some of the main issues that you hope to tackle in your first year?
Ronan: I think Mary is interested in youth recreation, right?
Alsager: Well, with my background in the parks and recreation commission I'm seeing where there are needs. You need to be on city commission to accomplish those things. But on the city commission, you might be able to see some of those things come to better fruition. I’m really supporting a community swimming pool.
Ronan: I’m on the historic district commission. I’ve served on it for a long time, so I could tell you that I’m interested in the downtown, Mission Street, and the tax base and how that works… My main thing is getting people to work together. If I had a mission this year, it’s to get the commission to work together with a common view.
What would you want to do to reduce vacant buildings in Mount Pleasant?
Ronan: It requires a shift in thinking. The (current) thinking is we need to do new developments and we need to make these things perfect and ready. (The thinking is) we need new stuff instead of using existing stuff. But what that does is increase the infrastructure cost for the city. Is there some way we can change the thinking so we can reward people for using, for renting or moving into those spaces as opposed to going out and building something new?
How would your actions on commission benefit the citizens of Mount Pleasant?
Alsager: I think we both have a long-term view that it’s not going to be a knee-jerk reaction to things. We have a historical perspective and we plan on staying here. It’s to benefit all of us.
Ronan: It is a function of being kind, thoughtful and good for the long-term stability of the community.
What about CMU students specifically?
Alsager: Right now, there aren’t many things downtown open after 6 p.m. to bring students downtown. It’s a good thing to focus on.
Ronan: I think getting more students (interested in internships) and embedded in this local community. People who are doing a lot of civic engagement stuff now at the university. I think opening up spots in the city where students can work and be involved is a good idea.
How do you think your teaching experiences will play a role as commissioner?
Alsager: My first impression is that it's not just talking about diversity, but we’ve seen it and experienced it. It’s a lot of learning to work together, so I think it’s a benefit to both of us.
Ronan: I think a large part of the commission is conveying to the public what’s important to the city or what we see as important to the city and why. I think a lot of times the people look at what the commission is doing and say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense. Why are they doing that?’ So, I think being educators, it behooves us just a little bit to realize that we have information on why things are going on and what the rationale is. Mary being a former teacher and myself being a teacher, being able to convey that in a way that’s clear to the people so they understand.