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FERNDALE – When City of Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter heard he may not be the only one running for re-election this year, it didn’t faze him.
“I’ll campaign the same no matter who else runs,” said Mayor Coulter, who was appointed mayor in Jan. 2011 after former mayor Craig Covey was elected to represent the 25th District on the Oakland County Commission, a seat Coulter had for four terms. Coulter won the Nov. mayoral election with nearly 85 percent of the vote.
The city’s filing deadline for the primary election is not until Aug. 13, according to the Oakland County Clerk’s Office, so there is still time for potential candidates to decide. Covey, another Democrat who was Ferndale’s mayor from 2007-2011 after being on the city council for nine years, said recently that he is considering running again.
“I’m talking with residents and business owners, and will spend the next several weeks talking to them to find out what they think,” said Covey, who lost re-election as Oakland County Commissioner in 2012. He was the first openly gay mayor in the state of Michigan. “Whenever I am at the grocery store or CVS or a restaurant, people come up to me and ask me to run again and get back on council. I plan on talking to many more folks about a run before a final decision in mid-July.”
Covey works full-time for the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, Jim Nash, where he set up a new not-for-profit called Pure Oakland Water.
“I talked briefly with Dave in February, and he said he was going to run again for mayor, and he encouraged me to run for a city council spot. I want to talk with him more, and many others, about how the city is doing and how I might best help. Dave is a good guy, and we have worked together for many years. We have similar backgrounds and viewpoints. If we compete in an election, it would be about specific issues and styles and methods.”
Covey has several reasons for wanting to run again. “At 56 years old, I am grayer and mellower, but hopefully wiser and more mature. There is some feeling of discontent out there among residents about a number of issues, including a sense of a growing bureaucracy, a return to high city spending, and of course, the new parking system downtown. I think we have to be more sensitive to the economic pressures that many residents, both young and old, are dealing with. Ferndale has among the highest taxes in the region, and we must be more conservative with spending other people’s money on high staff salaries, consultants, expensive and complicated parking systems, etc.,” he said.
As far as Mayor Coulter is concerned, this is just not reality. “Yes, when I became mayor we faced a deficit of over a million dollars, and we had police and firefighters working without a contract. But today we have a balanced budget for the next two years, thanks to the new budgeting plan I requested. We have a healthy fund balance, or rainy day fund, and our credit rating is excellent. We’ve cut almost a million dollars in the last year alone. We have employee contracts in place early for the first time in decades. The economy is still a huge challenge, but under this council we’re now on solid ground and in better financial shape than most cities. There won’t be an emergency financial manager in Ferndale any time soon, I can tell you that,” he said.
In moving forward, Mayor Coulter wants to continue to attract jobs by attracting and growing businesses in Ferndale. “That’s why I created the Mayor’s Business Council, and it’s already starting to produce results. We saw more than $35 million in non-residential investment last year, and the vacancy rate in our industrial area has been cut in half since I’ve been mayor. That’s also important because the more these businesses grow and pay taxes, the less the tax burden will be on residents,” he said.
Pulling in residents and encouraging citizen involvement is important to Sherry Wells also. The lawyer, publisher, author, public speaker, and Ferndale volunteer is in the process of circulating nomination petitions. Wells assumed Mayor Coulter was going to run for State Senate again in 2014, so she became interested in running for mayor this year.
“Because I ran in 2010, a lot of people assumed I would run for the open House seat in 2014,” said Coulter. “Many of them encouraged me and offered their support, which I greatly appreciate. And if I thought that’s where I could make the biggest impact I may have done it. But the difference now is I’m the mayor, a job I love and where I feel like I’m making a real difference to improve the city. In the end it was an easy decision.”
By the time he made his decision, Wells already made hers. “If it’s between he and I, there is no lesser of two evils. Ferndale is blessed,” said Wells, a 23-year resident of Ferndale who was elected to the city’s Charter Revision Commission in the ’90s and was the commission’s chair for two of its three-year existence. “I know he really enjoys what he is doing and that is good to hear. He is doing a fine job, but I believe I can do better,” she said. As a self-employed individual, Wells said she is more flexible.
“Being mayor is not just an evenings and weekend job. I am able to spend more time listening, clarifying, and exploring possible solutions,” she said.
Some attention has been paid to the fact that both Mayor Coulter and Covey are gay, and question whether this is a set-back or progress for Ferndale and the LGBT community. But Greg Pawlica, a candidate that is running for a council seat in November, said the current issues that face Ferndale have nothing to do with sexual orientation.
“Personally, I don’t understand why this is an issue at all,” he said.
Pawlica has had a much longer friendship with Covey, but has made the choice to endorse Mayor Coulter. “I will not be changing my support of Dave regardless of any candidate that decides to run for Mayor. I believe that Dave has done a great job since taking office. I am supporting Dave because he has the skills, experience, and knowledge to help get us through this economic recession and continue Ferndale on our path of progress. Craig and I have a lot of political history together, but it never outweighs our personal friendship with one another,” he said.
“The gay issue is a non-issue in Ferndale, and I’m proud of that. I just want to make sure Ferndale stays a popular, livable, affordable town that is cutting edge and efficient, while still being friendly and middle-class,” said Covey.
“I’m happy for all the support I’ve received, including from everyone on City Council. I’ve worked hard to be a mayor that brings people together and works on issues in a way that gives everyone a voice,” said Mayor Coulter. “And of course the LGBT community has played a major role not only in the success of Ferndale but in my own personal success, and I just hope I’ve made them proud.”