City Council candidates talk deer, DDA, docks

The candidates for the fifth district answered questions from the public on Wednesday evening. On the ballot is James Smith (incumbent) and Michael Syzmanski. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

The candidates for the fifth district answered questions from the public on Wednesday evening. On the ballot is James Smith (incumbent) and Michael Syzmanski. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

MANISTEE COUNTY — As candidates continue to campaign for the upcoming Manistee City Council election, the public has had opportunities to meet the candidates to help inform their voting decisions.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) Manistee County hosted a Candidates’ Forum on Wednesday night at the Manistee Inn and Marina, providing a chance for the public to meet the candidates for the contested race.

Incumbent James Smith and Michael Szymanski are on the ballot for the fifth district chair.

News Advocate editor Michelle Graves, who acted as the mediator for the debate, asked each candidate to introduce themselves to the public within a two minute time limit.

Smith discussed his experience as the current mayor of Manistee.

“I served on the city council since 2014, and as the mayor since 2016,” he said. “It takes time, energy and persistence as well as well as a passion for improving the city and I have that passion.”

Smith added that his experience in the military paired with his community involvement has prepared him to continue to the role on the city council.

“I have extensive leadership and management training, as well as a graduate degree,” he said. “The value of research and planning is vital to the growth and stability of Manistee.”

Syzmanski opened with a statement about his optimism for the future of the community, and desire to listen to the public about the issues needing to be addressed.

“We have lots of opportunities, but we also have lots of challenges,” he said. “The only way we are going to address those challenges is collectively and together.”

Syzmanski felt that his last job as a squadron director in Warner Robins, GA., had similar responsibilities as a city manager.

“I was responsible for the business programs, as well as the community programs,” he said. “I managed everything from the childcare center to the mortuary affairs office.”

Candidates answer questions prepared by the league, and both candidates answered questions from the audience, which covered a variety of topics including the damage to the marina docks last spring, the deer population and future plans for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Smith shared recent updates on the marina docks, which were damaged during a seiche event in April.

“Chief (Tim) Kozal, our public safety director, gave us a plan for the repair of the docks following the seiche,” he said. “We have a timeline right now, which is fairly tight, for the docks to be repaired no later than May but with a target date in early April.”

Smith added that the marina and docks were insured for loss of business.

“All of our business loss that we had throughout the season this year will be covered with an insurance payment,” he said.

Syzmanski said that supporting the commercial sports fisherman as well as leisure boaters is important to the community.

“The problem is, when something like this happens, it is unexpected and unplanned for,” he said. “The kinds of workforce needed to rebuild our docks is not always readily available.”

Syzmanski noted that the city has insurance money and they are also looking for grants.

“I think our city manager and city public works have done a great job trying to do the best they can with the resources they have, not just on the docks but in other areas as well,” he said.

The candidates were asked what will be done to remedy the overpopulation of deer in the city.

Smith answered with a summary of the vote for the deer cull in recent years.

“In 2014, there was a vote to have the police department to act as the deer cull participants, and following that, there was a subsequent vote to stop that,” he said. “There was an assessment through the USDA, and they took a look at the police plan and said it was unsafe to shoot in some of the areas that the police identified, and citizens would not allow us to shoot on areas that were clear and safe to shoot.”

Smith said that the request is back to Kozal and is in the works, with attempts to get properties under cooperation.

Syzmanski noted that the population has continued to grow, with deer causing problems on school playgrounds.

“It goes like this: if you do nothing, it doesn’t get better, it gets worse,” he said. “And for four years, they’ve done nothing and it has gotten worse.”

Syzmanski offered a potential solution from a local deer expert, who is familiar with humane tranquilization.

“In the Boy Scouts, I taught scout leaders and one of the things we were taught is to know and use your resources,” he said, discussing the techniques of the deer expert. “He would be willing to support culling and relocating our deer population. Anybody who hunts knows we can use a few more deer out in the National Forest.”

Another audience question asked candidates to share their thoughts on the DDA, and if the organization needs any changes.

Smith said he is on the DDA board as the current mayor, and has watched the process for the past two years.

“The DDA is an important element to the downtown area of the city,” he said. “They provide a focal point for volunteers, and those volunteers get a lot of things done in terms of events and other planning and service activities.”

Smith said one of the important functions of the DDA is their redevelopment liquor license, which attracts new businesses to the downtown area.

“If you don’t have a liquor license available, which we typically don’t, the only way to get one is through the DDA,” he explained. “Overall there are important functions done by the DDA, but certainly changes need to be made for the future.”

Syzmanski felt that the DDA has helped build a better downtown, but it will also take a lot of work from the community.

“What people did for the Vogue Theatre is a perfect example on how we can make downtown ‘wow,'” he said, describing the efforts of the community. “There are so many activities that the DDA, if empowered and given the right resources, can help with.”

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