City commission candidates discuss voting, marijuana at SGA forum


George Ronan answers a student's question during the annual Local Candidates Forum hosted by Student Government Association Oct. 21 in Bovee University Center Auditorium. Beside him are fellow candidates for city commission Mary Alsager, center, and Kathy Rise, right. 

Central Michigan University's Student Government Association gave students the opportunity to question City Commission candidates and hear about their platforms ahead of the election on Nov. 5. 

Five Mount Pleasant City Commission candidates gathered in the University Center to answer questions at the annual Local Candidates Forum on Oct. 21.

There are two open seats in city commission after long-time commissioners Kathleen Ling and Tony Kulick decided not to seek reelection. The five candidates running are:

  • Barry DeLau II, who has experience working with the local wood recycling industry and emphasized his desire to attract students to stay in Mount Pleasant after they graduate.
  • Brandon McQueen, who is currently taking political science classes at CMU and spearheaded the petition for the Mount Pleasant recreational marijuana ballot proposal.
  • Mary Alsager, a parks and recreation commissioner, former public school teacher and former small business owner.
  • George Ronan, a psychology faculty member at CMU and a local business owner. He said his “sense of what it’s like to develop property in town” and experience helming committees at CMU qualify him to serve on the commission.
  • Kathy Rise, a planning commissioner and local business owner. She said she is unafraid to speak up when she sees something wrong and wants to rejuvenate Mount Pleasant’s downtown area.

The candidates discussed student outreach, recreational marijuana and impediments to the city’s growth.

Fostering a community

The retention of the student population post-graduation was a recurring issue among the candidates. Several expressed a desire to foster a community of “young professionals” who stick around town after their time at CMU. 

“We have to develop the city so you guys want to stay,” DeLau said. “If there’s no opportunities for you here, you’re not even going to think about it.” He added that Mount Pleasant is at a “crossroads,” and that if elected to the commission he would focus on economic development and undoing what he described as the over-regulation of business.

Rise said Mount Pleasant’s downtown area is “vastly underutilized,” marked by empty sidewalks and storefronts. She said she’d like to see a bike-share program implemented that would enable students to move between campus and downtown more easily.

Chicago sophomore Mary Pat expressed doubts about whether making Mount Pleasant attractive to graduates is a worthy goal.

“I think that they want people to stay here after college, but in reality that’s just not a good option for students because of how small it is. It’s not a good place to expand in your career,” Pat said. “Businesses keep leaving the town. There’s nothing that can grow here because of how small the city is.” 

Zoning issues

Candidates consistently cited zoning regulations as the reason for Mount Pleasant's lack of economic development.

To illustrate regulations he described as excessive, DeLau turned to the McDonald’s location on Mission Street. The site’s developer said Mount Pleasant is “the hardest city he’s ever worked with in the country” and was even prevented from placing McDonald’s signage above the door due to a zoning restriction, according to DeLau.

“The students aren’t coming, the businesses are leaving, and we need to focus on why that is,” DeLau said. “[Mount Pleasant should be] a little bit more open and welcoming to businesses.”

Alsager also expressed concerns with the zoning ordinance. She said she’s spoken with local residents and business owners about how they weren’t able to start projects on their homes and businesses due to zoning regulations. She mentioned a resident who wasn’t able to make improvements due to the new zoning ordinance.

While she said she doesn’t know the zoning ordinance well enough to name specific sections, she did say she wants to target parts that prevent people from making backyard projects or improving new parking lots.

“The idea that you can’t make improvements in your own backyard sounds ridiculous,” Alsager said.

Ronan said Mount Pleasant’s vacant properties are a “significant problem.” He said the commission can do better to involve students in efforts that are typically outsourced to paid consultants and to expand internship opportunities in local government.

Student participation in politics

McQueen said he would like to create a voting precinct on CMU’s campus and wants to figure out why there isn’t one already. He said it’s important for students to register to vote in Mount Pleasant to increase voter turnout and give legitimacy to student issues.

Candidates said they would like to see students engage with Mount Pleasant politics. Rise said she would like to see students attend upcoming public hearings, specifically regarding the master plan process. City government is currently finalizing the Mount Pleasant 2050 Master Plan with McKenna & Associates, which will project goals for Mount Pleasant’s development into the year 2050. Rise stressed that now, while the plan is still being drafted, is the time for ideas and concerns to be shared.

Ronan said he would like to start a collaborative council, which would bring together representatives from CMU, Mount Pleasant, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Mid-Michigan College to generate more cross-pollination of ideas and concerns. He also suggested the commission present itself to CMU’s students at least once per semester to make local government more visible to students and to hear what they have to say.

Recreational marijuana

McQueen spoke at length about the marijuana ballot proposal he pushed for, which will be on the ballot in the upcoming election. He said the decisions made in the next few months regarding this issue will have a large effect on the local economy.

There are two separate proposals about recreational marijuana business regulations: A city ordinance passed by city commission, and the ballot proposal McQueen supports. The city’s ordinance has stricter regulations than the ballot proposal, McQueen said.

He said he’s concerned about zoning regulations, limits on marijuana businesses and restricting marijuana event licenses to edibles only.

He said that the current commission understands neither the culture nor the science of marijuana.

“The city just doesn’t understand what they’re doing,” McQueen said. “They’re trying to protect people, but they don’t understand what they’re protecting people from.” 

For more info about registering to vote in Mount Pleasant, visit the city’s website.