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City commission candidates talk student issues


Student behavior and housing has been a hot topic of city government for years, and the candidates for city commission are following suit.

Here is a breakdown of candidates and their views on the "problems" students cause, and how they plan to fix them if elected.

Rick Rautanen

Rautanen serves as vice mayor, an elected position within the city commission. His term will soon expire. He wants to work with Central Michigan University, the city and student groups to come to a happy medium of what is acceptable behavior, he said. "We understand students are a huge part of the community, but in recent years we've seen a change in behavior," he said. "Lawlessness has become more acceptable."

Maintaining good reputations as a university and city is something Rautanen said should be a focus of the city and its students. Partying and trash problems residents often complain about are multi-faceted issues with no easy solution.

"How can we have fun but do it in a responsible fashion?" he said. "We need to collectively sit down and talk about it."

Rautanen has previously served on the Mount Pleasant Planning Commission. He is a general manager at Lodgco Hotels and and a CMU alumnus. Holding students accountable, increasing affordable housing for seniors and maintaining fiscal responsibility are priorities of his campaign. 

Keith Cotter

Cotter serves on the Planning Commission. He cites a small group of students as the primary source of behavior problems. 

"The problems are with respect and behavior," he said. "Fixing it will take a lot of time. It's a small group of people getting too rowdy that we sometimes let represent the students as a whole." 

He said more enforcement from police and code enforcement officers is part of the solution. While city commissioners have cited high-density housing as the problem, Cotter disagrees. 

"It only takes one person to have a big party," he said. "There needs to be actual consequences. Policies need to be stricter, with less warnings. Students need to be policed and fined more to eliminate that select group of people."

Cotter has served on the planning commission since 2013 and is the chair. He is a CMU alumnus and owns Douglas Day, a realty office, and several rental homes. The priorities of his campaign are increasing property tax revenue, attracting development within city limits and holding students accountable with additional enforcement. 

Lori Gillis

Though she is mainly an advocate for Mount Pleasant park systems, Gillis still has opinions on student behavior. She thinks students should utilize power in numbers and do more self-policing.

"I believe in the power of the people," she said. "The students have a lot more power to change this internally rather than us having to resort to force or fines."

Gillis would also like to hold landlords more accountable for the behavior of their tenants, especially north of campus. She suggested landlords take action and check up on their rentals, making sure students aren't breaking parts of their leases, like having big parties. 

"When students in rental homes have 50-100 people at a party, they shouldn't be allowed to live there," Gillis said. "There are so many venues where students can party in large groups. Saying residents just need to accept it is a cop out. You can't party in a residential neighborhood, just like you can't do that in your hometown." 

Gillis is a CMU alumna and is an instructor of computer science and business. The platforms of her campaign include encouraging residents to participate on local boards, ensure maintenance of parks and increase revenue for publicly-funded entities.

Lisa Ferden

Ferden is not a fan of generalization. She said when the city government talks about students, it tends to put the vast majority in the problem category. 

"Students are generalized to be the source of a problem that is really only caused by a small number of them," she said. "People tend to remember instances like Welcome Weekend more." 

Creating more opportunities for students to live and work in Mount Pleasant, including after graduation, is one of Ferden's goals. She also said pedestrian traffic between campus and downtown is what residents see most often, and creating a passenger train that takes students from all over the city to Mount Pleasant's businesses would be a solution to reducing noise north of campus. 

"Students need places to go," Ferden said. "This should be a safe and welcoming place for them to live."

Ferden is a CMU alumna and co-owner of a technology company located in the CMU Research Corporation. Her priorities include public safety and reducing traffic and speed north of campus. Ferden has served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic District Commission.

Petro Tolas

Tolas believes the city government focuses too much on "problems" cause by students, and not enough on fiscal responsibility. 

"It's a small amount of students, and people who aren't students, who cause problems," he said. "People move right in the middle of where students live, and then get mad because of how it is there, because they thought Mount Pleasant was changing." 

He's more business-oriented, and believes like-minded people need to be elected to city commission. More modern-looking, upscale businesses would help Mount Pleasant thrive, he said. 

Unlike other candidates Tolas said he doesn't have an agenda. He said he sees too many non-common sense decisions being made in city government, and that "someone has to do something." 

A CMU alumnus, Tolas owns several businesses, including Tolas Oil and Tolas Land. He served eight years on the Zoning Board of Appeals. He said his main priorities are running the city within its budget, making sound business decisions and accommodating and helping new businesses.

Nick Madaj

As a research attorney, Madaj said he would be a good fit for city commission. 

Madaj has lived in Mount Pleasant for three years, and believes there are two sides to actions the city can take to control student behavior.

A zoning plan, which would expand the newly-approved M-2 buffer zone, is one of Madaj's goals. He'd like to see a larger buffer zone, going from densly-populated student housing near campus to single-family homes.

The other side of this, Madaj said, is action, or working with the police to further enforce students. 

"Affordable housing in between student and residential areas is a way to address both," he said. "If you address density, you address behavior. I don't want to see a greater burden of expense for enforcement." 

Madaj said he expects students to be good neighbors and simply be courteous.

After graduating from Saginaw Valley State University, Madaj attended law school at Michigan State. He served on city boards in Bay City before moving to Mount Pleasant. His platform points are a responsible city budget that caters to residents, protecting neighborhoods north of campus and a more open and transparent government. 

Allison Quast-Lents

Quast-Lents grew up in Mount Pleasant, and runs Motorless Motion, her family's bike shop.

Inhabiting a home north of campus, she has seen many cases of students misbehaving in the neighborhood and on her own property. Quast-Lents purchased a condemned fraternity home on University Street, and says students have broken into it numerous times as her family restores the property.

"I see garbage, kids peeing in my yard, parking in my yard because they think they can park anywhere," she said. "They've stolen my patio furniture, they drive through my yard and they've stolen my campaign signs." 

Quast-Lents' desire to run for commission came when city planners proposed rewriting the zoning ordinance. She saw this as an opportunity to represent neighborhood interests, where she said there is a growing culture of student misbehavior. This, she said, is a result of high-density rentals.

"I've gone on a couple ride-alongs with police, and they are at every house with four or more people every weekend," she said. 


About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a super-senior at Central Michigan University. She comes from metro Detroit ...

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