By Jeff Gallatin
About the only thing Bay Village mayoral contenders Debbie Sutherland and Marty Mace can agree on is that their city is a great place to live.
At the Wednesday candidates forum set up by the Bay Village members of the Cuyahoga County Chapter of the League of Women Voters, the two candidates continued to differ in how they view the state of municipal government in Bay Village.
Sutherland, the incumbent, has been mayor since she was appointed in 2000 to replace Tom Jelepis when he left to head the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. She is now the longest-serving mayor in Bay Village history.
Mace retired after 24 years with the Bay Village Fire Department. He was one of the leaders of a firefighters and citizens group which challenged Sutherland’s administration when it cut fire shift staffing levels as a means of combating tight city budgets.
At Thursday’s forum, both candidates reiterated themes they have cited throughout the campaign.
Sutherland said that Bay Village continued to do well throughout the Great Recession and despite major cuts in state funding to cities throughout Ohio and sluggish other sources of revenue. The mayor credited her administration as working with City Council to devise lean budgets that allowed the city maintain a strong level of services.
“We have a great story to tell,” she said, referring to the city through her administration.
Mace continued to hit on themes he has sounded throughout the campaign. He, along with the two candidates who lost in the primary, all have accused Sutherland’s administration of not being transparent enough to the general public, saying it is not receptive to outside input. He also indicated his belief city service levels are dropping and that the city is facing additional finance- and service-related issues as a result of the policies undertaken by Sutherland, and that changes need to be made for Bay to be able to retain its status as an elite suburb.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said, referring to Bay Village’s future.
The two candidates look at major recent events differently.
Referring to Superstorm Sandy, Sutherland said that she and other Westshore mayors met with the utilities, expressing concern about the response and cleanup efforts during and after the storm that left thousands of Bay Village residents without power for days. Sutherland said the meetings resulted in a better response plan for smaller communities like Bay Village in which the utilities committed to providing more crews and better response time to future potential emergencies like Sandy.
Mace said the the city and utilities response times were not good enough. He said the city should have a had a better plan for dealing with an emergency situation like Sandy, and that as a former firefighter and member of a state safety services group, an administration headed by him could craft a better plan than that of Sutherland.
Referring to some government spending, Mace said the city is not spending funds wisely on equipment, saying it should be more careful about such expenditures. He also would like to bring an animal control officer back on at least a part-time basis and questions the outsourcing of city services such as the Sutherland administration’s outsourcing of building department work to SAFEbuilt, a Colorado-based company that has moved into much of the former police department space in the City Hall building.
Sutherland said the equipment purchases referred to by Mace are necessary expenditures, such as a streetsweeper, needed for the vital function of keeping streets clean. She said the city has done a good job of meeting mandates from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. She also said there is not a need for an animal control officer anymore and that the city was better off laying off the animal control officer than a regular police officer. She said the city will save $250,000 this year and projects other savings of $450,000 next year with no loss in efficiency with the outsourcing of the building department.
As a former firefighter, Mace has expressed concern about the city’s pursuit of being part of a possible regional fire department with other cities and the possible loss of effectiveness and services for Bay residents if city firefighters have to respond to calls in other cities.
Sutherland said the city will not be losing borders or its identity by considering some regional services, such as the fire district and said her administration will make sure services are maintained.