Five vie for three council seats up for grabs

Paula Neuman

Riverview voters will go to the polls Nov. 5 to re-elect Mayor Andrew Swift, who is running unopposed, and choose three of five contenders for four-year City Council seats.

Council incumbents Lynn Blanchette, Thomas Coffey and Elmer Trombley are challenged by Chuck Norton and Suzanne O’Neil.

We asked each of them to answer the same five questions, and the mayor volunteered to answer them, too.

Lynn Blanchette

Lynn Blanchette, 71, has been a Riverview resident for 51 years. A former optician, she is a graduate of Trenton High School, and serves as the council’s mayor pro tem. First elected in 1991, Blanchette is the longest-serving councilwoman in the city’s history.

Thomas Coffey

Thomas Coffey, 81, a retired police deputy chief, has served on the council for 22 years. He also served as a member of the Riverview Board of Education for 13 years. He did not respond to our request for answers to the questions.

Chuck Norton

Chuck Norton, 49, a Trenton High School graduate, is a volunteer chaplain and addiction counselor for the U.S. First Responders Association, and a volunteer firearms training facilitator licensed by the U.S. Concealed Carry Association for his wife’s business, Liberty Defensive Training LLC. He was a production supervisor with GKN Sinter Metals until he was injured in a 2003 accident, and forced to take a medical retirement. He has lived in Riverview since 1992.

Suzanne O’Neil

Suzanne O’Neil, 45, works as a supervisor in a medical office. She has lived in Riverview for 15 years, and her husband works for the city’s Police Department. She attended Baptist Park High School in Taylor.

Elmer Trombley

Elmer Trombley, 82, was first elected to the council in 1981, and has served ever since. He has lived in Riverview nearly his entire life. Trombley retired in 2006, after working for Wayne County as a journeyman welder and mechanic, and working at McLouth Steel from 1958-96.

 Q: What is the most pressing issue facing the city?

Blanchette: Like most communities, we are still in the throes of rebuilding our financial stability from the recession.  We have been able to hold our tax base steady for the past several years with no tax increases. With the possible closing of the landfill in the next eight to 10 years, there is a potential of an 11 mill shortage in revenue that we are working diligently on to find alternative ways to subsidize our tax base maintain city services and not have tax increases.

Norton: Our residents need access to see what is taking place during the study sessions. This information needs to be accessible online at the residents convince, like we do with our City Council meetings.

O’Neil: The most pressing issue in the city is the closing of the landfill. The city has always known this was going to be an issue and now the time is upon us.  Due to this issue, we no longer offer competitive wages/benefits to our public safety.  We are now looking into a private ambulance service to serve our community.  There have been circumstances where only one firefighter was at the Fire Department during a weekend.  We have hired and lost many police officers to other, more competitive cities.  In conclusion, with losing the funds from the landfill, you will notice a decrease in city services including police, fire, ambulance and DPW. 

Tombley: To continue to deliver quality  police, fire, public works, recreation programs and all other services that make Riverview the lovely community it is and has been while avoiding any tax increase.  This means ever vigilant watchfulness on how we spend our hard-earned tax dollars.

Swift: The most pressing issue is staffing at the Fire Department.  We do experience times when we don’t have enough of the properly certified staff on duty.  By this, I mean we don’t have a paramedic in the house, which is required to man an ambulance rated for advanced life support.  When this happens or when we are short personnel, we contract with a private ambulance to cover the time we are short.  We are exploring many options to resolve this issue and looking to have a more permanent solution. The citizens can rest assured that we will always have fire and emergency services available.

Q: Why are you the right person to serve on the council (or as mayor)?

Blanchette: My years on City Council have afforded me the knowledge from various committees and commissions I have been a member of and given me the insight to solutions for problems we are facing in the future, keeping Riverview a desirable place to live in.  We were recently ranked the 29th safest city in Michigan.

Norton: I have been a resident of Riverview for 27 years. During my residence, I have followed the City council meetings and the agenda. Since becoming a candidate for City Council, I have been listening to what many of our residents’ concerns are.

• The fire station at times has only one employee on shift.

• The city is understaffed in some of their departments. It is hard to fill vacancies, when we cannot offer what other local communities offer.

• The concern about extremely high water bills.

• The fact that our landfill will be at full capacity within the next 10 years.

• Our city golf course doesn’t show a profit and is a financial drain on Riverview residents. According to golfers that I have spoken with, it needs a lot of repair and maintenance.

• The residents are concerned about the many vacant store fronts in our city.

• Business owners do not feel that they get support from our leadership in Riverview.

O’Neil: I have raised two children in this community and I still have one in the school system.  My husband has been a police officer in the city for 17 years.

Trombley:  I spent most of my life in the city of Riverview.  Therefore, I know the people, I know their issues, their concerns, and I am committed to do the best for our residents.  I am compassionate for the least fortunate, the elderly and our struggling young families.  So I want to build the best community possible without burdensome taxation.

Swift: My 14 years of experience on council (before being elected as mayor four years ago) gives me a clear view of the past and what we need to change. We can’t continue to do things as we have always done. I believe I can help lead that change. The council works as a team and I can work with whoever makes up the team.

 Q: Why did you choose to run?

Blanchette: I feel that when possible, one should serve their community.  My goal is to make Riverview the best community to live in and raise a family.  Serving on City Council is my way of achieving this goal.

Norton: The above bullet points explain this. I can help facilitate and implement a positive change to get these problems solved. That will make Riverview a very competitive city within our Downriver community.

O’Neil:  I believe there are many pressing issues in this community.  I am vested in this city because my husband works in the city and I am a homeowner in the city. I am very concerned with the direction the city is going right now. 

Trombley:  I am passionate for this community.  If a resident brings an issue to my attention, I will look into it and see that they get their issue resolved, or, if not resolved, an answer as to why it cannot be resolved.  I feel residents sometimes have to have someone stand up for them and look into their issues.

Swift: I chose to run for mayor because there is so much to prepare for in the near future.  With the potential closing of the landfill, council has been considering options to replace that income.  Riverview has been successful in attracting several new businesses in the past four years.  I think we should step up those efforts even more.  I would also like to see an increase in the use of our premier park, Young Patriots.   There are so many family-oriented and community uses of the park that would cost the city little or nothing.

Q: The landfill has an estimated eight to 10 years left. Knowing the city’s financial dependency on the landfill, would you support its expansion when the time comes?

Blanchette: The time is here and now for actions and solutions pertaining to the landfill expansion or closure of it. It is our obligation to protect our residents and our way of life. The closure of the landfill will involve the city, county, state and federal governments. It is not just being able to lock the gates and walk away.

Norton: Absolutely not.

O’Neil: I do support the expansion.  We have been very dependent on it for years. 

Trombley: If the majority of our community supports an expansion, I would support an expansion.  I represent the citizens of the city of Riverview.  However, the expansion would have to be done following all regulations and permits. 

Swift: When the time comes, I will support the expansion.  The landfill provides about 25-30% of our general fund budget.  It is imperative we do what we need to do before we submit another request to the county.  We need to insure we are implementing the latest technology in odor control, pursuing more markets for our excess methane, and providing a safe clean area for those residents interested in recycling.

Q: What would you do differently to attract new businesses?

Blanchette: We are aggressively working to continue to make Riverview a city that attracts new businesses while maintaining communications with our current businesses, helping them to stay successful and expand.  We have welcomed at least 18 new businesses and are excited about major expansions of Pirates Cove Self Storage, Ash Stevens Inc. and The Bellaire Senior Living.

Norton: I would be as inviting and kind to potential new business (and current businesses} as possible. I would personally meet with the new business owners to make sure they have everything they need to be successful. I would be available to them and work with them, making sure they are getting their questions and concerns answered. I would recommend our city social media to advertise the new business to let our residents know who is new in our city. Our city should have an incentive program for a new business that moves into a vacant building to spend a portion of the first year’s taxes to beautify the outside of their location. This will improve the business district. This could attract new business.

O’Neil: I think it would be great to have a Q-and-A for businesses to see how we could make it easier for them to open their businesses.  We need to make it easy for them to join our community and not make them frustrated. 

Trombley: I would have updated and adjusted business building codes and ordinances to be more business-friendly sooner than we have done.  We have recently addressed issues, but we still have a lot to do.  Many of our outdated codes and ordinances have made it difficult for businesses.

Swift: We’ve been mildly successful in the past four years in attracting new businesses.  Contrary to popular belief, we can’t make businesses come here.  But what we can do is what we are doing: Working with potential businesses to make the licensing and permitting processes go smoother.  Our Planning Commission and zoning boards are working to make Riverview a more business-friendly community.  In the past four years, we had 19 businesses either move into Riverview or expand their capacity and footprint here. 

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