Vote to Nominate New Houghton Board Member Stands | News, Sports, Jobs


HOUGHTON – Houghton city council will remain at six members until May after council was unable to vote on a candidate for the vacant post on Wednesday.

Eight people applied for the seat previously held by Daniel Salo, who left the board after becoming only a part-time resident.

The board will remain at six members until a special election on May 3. All eight nominees, and any eligible Houghton residents, will be able to run. Whoever is chosen will run again in November 2022.

The council held votes on the candidates on Wednesday. Three candidates – Michael Salmi, Sally Ann Snyder and former board member Buck Foltz – did not receive the required nomination and a second. The five remaining candidates – Brad Baltensperger, Robyn Johnson, Jennifer Rachels, Craig Waddell and Norma Veurink – each received three votes in three rounds of voting.

The candidates were voted in the order of their nomination. Under Houghton’s electoral rules, the candidate with the most votes would win the nomination. In the event of a tie, the candidates with the most votes will move on to another round. If a majority of the councilors present could not come to an agreement after three rounds, the council would remain at six members until the next special election.

Clear voting patterns emerged early and persisted through all three rounds. Three members – Mayor Robert Backon, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen and Councilor Mike Needham – voted for Baltensperger, a retired geography professor at Michigan University of Technology and a long-time member of the township school district council from Houghton-Portage. These were offset by no votes from the list of councilors elected in 2020 – Virginia Cole, Brian Irizarry and Joan Suits.

The trend was reversed for Rachels, Waddell and Veurink, who received positive votes from the three new board members.

The only candidate to break the pattern was Johnson, who works as an enterprise systems and data analyst at Michigan Tech. She received a yes vote from Megowen and a no vote from Suits.

Before the final vote, Baltensperger took note of the apparent voting blocks. He suggested Johnson as a potential compromise choice. He asked board members to explain what the personal or systemic reasons were behind their votes.

“I only spoke to one board member about this work”, he said. “I have a pretty good track record. If you think that I am not well prepared, or that I do not take the time, or that I have some kind of predilection on certain issues, I would like to hear it. And I think that would be appropriate for the other candidates… if you vote against someone, someone should be ready to explain why they are voting no against someone they have known for a long time or have not known. . “

Needham said after learning the procedure for Wednesday’s meeting, he decided to vote only for one person.

“I don’t understand how we got to the point where it’s our procedure, and I think that should warrant further conversation.” he said. “So it was with a lot of reluctance, knowing Robyn and the magnet as a person, that I said no. I felt terrible about it. But I had decided that Brad was the one for me. better.

Needham said he first approached Johnson’s husband Adam Johnson about the race. After refusing, Needham approached Baltensperger. Although he didn’t know Baltensperger well, he said, he had been impressed by the comments Baltensperger had made at public meetings about the Lakeshore Drive parking issue.

After the first tie at five, board members discussed what they were looking for in a new board member.

“I would like to see new faces” Costumes says. “On the other hand, I would like to see someone who has shown an interest in coming to meetings regularly and trying to be a part of the audience contribution process… it’s hard to decide. I don’t think there is a perfect candidate.

As Baltensperger later did, Irizarry suggested Johnson as a possible compromise choice.

Cole noted Rachels’ service as an army sergeant in Afghanistan. As a graduate student at Michigan Tech, she would also bring a new perspective to the board, Cole said.

“This is something that we have not seen in other committees, no commission or council” she said. “Tech students represent a large portion of our population and they impact our economy. “

Like Needham and Backon, Megowen touted Baltensperger, who he said would bring experience working with boards of directors, community members, and state and federal governments.

“He has been on the school board for many years and works very well with the public. he said. “Ask any teacher, superintendent, school principal, police officer. This gentleman loves this community. A man who did that which I think deserves to be a member of this board for a short time to help us move forward.

Instead of a structured interview, candidates were encouraged to add comments before and after each vote. They explained why they should be appointed or called attention to issues they felt were important.

Baltensperger, who has been with the school board since 1988, said he didn’t come to the post with a schedule or preconceptions. The same goes for the board, he said.

“I want to see the community prosper” he said. “I want this to move forward. It is a very successful progressive community. I want this to continue, and I would love to have some discussions on how this happens most effectively. “

Johnson said she applied to make sure there would be a qualified candidate for the job. Although she has no experience in government, she said, she has extensive experience with community groups, most notably as a former director of the Keweenaw Co-op and the Copper Country. Ski Tigers.

“I’ve been reading council minutes and files online for years” she said. “I’m interested in local government and what’s going on in our community. Although I was unable to attend the meetings due to family and work obligations, I kept abreast of what was happening in this community.

While not stepping down, Johnson backed Baltensperger ahead of the council’s final vote.

Rachels, a Ph.D. energy policy student at Tech, said she plans to stay in the area after graduating. In addition to serving in the US military, she also volunteered for the Peace Corps. His professional experience includes performing energy audits for 112 small businesses for Hawai’i Energy, working for Habitat for Humanity as a program manager and as a grant manager for the Georgia Shelter Plus care program.

“Overall, I think I could sum up this experience by saying that if you add it all up, I’ve managed or overseen about $ 70 million in federal grants,” she said.

She also spoke about the work she had done locally to address the issue of graduate students who were struggling with homelessness or poverty. She sees another problem in the rising cost of housing; a Fair Market room rental has gone from $ 539 in 2018 to over $ 700 this year.

“That kind of broader vision and awareness, organizations and understanding of what’s going on in the context of development in places like this is really important for a city council member.” she said.

Waddell, retired rhetoric professor at Michigan Tech, emphasized his level of civic engagement. During the past year, he had attended all the meetings of the council, the town planning commission and the two sub-committees formed to study the city’s master plan and the parking issue. The two meetings he was unable to attend, he later watched tapes at the Copper Beacon.

He also founded the West Houghton Neighborhood Association, which held meetings for five years in the presence of the mayor and city manager.

If he was chosen for the board, he would devote all the time necessary, without accepting any compensation.

“I am not a member – I have never been – of any political party”, he said. “I think if you look at the posts I’ve sent over the past year, I hope you at least recognize that they are well documented with data and research.”

He would like the council to further encourage a symbiotic relationship between downtown and neighborhoods through means such as improving pedestrian potential. He also spoke of “Illuminated stores” – stores which, unlike “Dark stores”, make a point of paying their fair share of taxes. The city should also make efforts to attract satellite branches of stores and offices in other cities, such as Copper World or the Copper Country Community Arts Center, he said.

Veurink, an engineering professor at Michigan Tech, did not speak at the meeting. In her candidacy for council, she highlighted her work with residents through organizations such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Keweenaw Land Trust. She said she would like to increase public awareness and participation in public meetings.

“I would like to see increased receptivity to public comments from city council,” she said. “I would like to be part of the solution to the parking problem, with the solution based on feedback from residents of the city and region and a holistic plan for the development of the city. “

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