By Jeff Gallatin
Bay Village’s quartet of mayoral contenders re-emphasized the need for financial responsibility and open government at a packed mayoral forum Aug. 13 in the Bay Middle School auditorium.
Appearing before more 250 people at the forum organized by the Bay Village members of the Cuyahoga County League of Women Voters, incumbent Mayor Debbie Sutherland and challengers Claire Banasiak, Marty Mace and David Volle all touched on financial matters and various issues pertaining to openness in city government. The candidates made opening and closing statements and also fielded questions from the audience after league officials had screened them. The four face a September primary with the top two vote-getters advancing to the November general election. It is the first primary election in Bay Village since city voters several years ago overwhelmingly approved having primaries if there were enough candidates.
During the forum, the challengers cited what they believe is a need for more open government.
Banasiak, a substitute teacher, said she believes there is a need for more open government and a fresh perspective in city government, saying the public would have a voice in her administration.
Both Mace, a retired city firefighter who was one of the leaders of the group that challenged Sutherland’s administration on shift staffing levels, and Volle, a former city policeman and building inspector, questioned current city budget practices, with Volle saying spending is unchecked and Mace questioning the purchases of several pieces of equipment, citing a street sweeper as one example. Mace said he wanted put such purchases through closer scrutiny, while saying the city needs to be better prepared for major weather events like Superstorm Sandy; and Volle said he would only be responsible to the public.
The challengers also questioned the passing of many pieces of legislation on an emergency basis with only one reading and the need for many of the executive sessions called at council meetings in recent years.
Sutherland reminded the challengers that council passes and classifies the legislation and votes on when to go into executive sessions. She said city budgets and financial information are open to the public for inspection at any time.
Referring to the financial issues, she said the street sweeper is used every day in the city and helps keep the city streets and infrastructure clean, which helps the city meet the stringent federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements pertaining to keeping city sewers and other infrastructure clean. She said the administration and council have worked hard the last few years to balance city budgets and maintain strong city services despite the terrible economy, major cuts in state funding to cities and the need to meet the increasing EPA mandates.
She said her administration has experienced staff and has done a fine job of working with council, adding that it is best suited to meet the financial challenges in coming years, noting that since she became mayor in 2000, the full-time workers in the city have gone from 140 to 96.
When questioned about potential tax increases, both Banasiak and Mace said it would be a last resort in their administrations. Sutherland said she is opposed to any property tax increase, while Volle said he couldn’t promise there would be no tax increase, but said any consideration of a tax hike would be discussed fully in open public sessions.