Thinking of running for City Council?

Now’s the time to decide

DAVE GORGON

Have you ever thought about running for a seat on the Riverview City Council? Now is the time to decide in 2021.

Three four-year terms on the seven-member council will be on the election ballot later this year. The deadline to file petitions with the City Clerk’s Office to declare a candidacy is 4 p.m. April 20. Each candidate needs 40 signatures of registered voters to qualify for placement on the ballot.

City elections are held in odd-numbered years. Terms are staggered with three council seats on the ballot this year and the other four, including the Mayor, on the ballot in 2023.

“Being on the City Council is a great responsibility,” said Mayor Andrew Swift. “We are a team that works together for the betterment of our constituents.”

Swift was elected to the council in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009 and 2013. He was elected Mayor in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019.

This year’s three open seats on the council are held by Councilmen James Trombley, Dean Workman and Billy Towle. The spots held by Mayor Swift, Councilwoman and Mayor Pro-tem Sussie O’Neil, Councilwoman Lynn Blanchette and Councilman Chuck Norton will be on the 2023 ballot.

If a minimum of seven candidates file to run for City Council this year, a primary election would be held on August 3, according to City Clerk Cynthia Hutchison, who is the election administrator. City primary elections are rare in Riverview. The General Election is scheduled for November 2.

Those elected would be sworn in around Nov. 15 after the election is certified.

Hutchison said residents can register to vote up to the day of the election.

City Council meetings, which are open to the public, are held at 7:30 p.m. the first and third Mondays at City Hall, each preceded by a 7 p.m. study session.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have been held via Zoom teleconference. Agendas, including directions on how to attend the meetings electronically by Zoom or telephone, are posted on the City Clerk’s page of the city website, www.cityofriverview.com.

Meetings also can be viewed on the city cable TV channel and YouTube channel online.

Councilmembers O’Neil and Norton are the newest members of the elected body. Both said they ran in 2019 because they felt change was needed and each had specific issues in mind.

Fifteen months into their first term, they said the part-time job is both challenging and satisfying. Both said the job is much more than attending council meetings. 

O’Neil said she averages about 20 hours a week, while Norton said 25 hours. Councilmembers’ compensation is $5,000 annually. The Mayor receives $6,000.

One of the keys to holding a council seat is commitment to the city, O’Neil and Norton said.

O’Neil, who works in a medical office and is married to a Riverview police officer, is the mother of two sons and has two grandchildren. 

Her grandfather was a former Riverview Community High School football coach and one of his claims to fame was coaching future University of Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, who was a high school classmate of her mother.

Norton, who is on a medical disability, has lived in the city since 1992. He is married and has three stepchildren and four grandchildren, three of whom attend Riverview schools. He assists his wife at her Liberty Defensive Training business in Brownstown and volunteers as a chaplain. He said his council salary is donated to a veterans group.

“I wanted to help make a difference in this beautiful city,” Norton said. He said he ran on “transparency” and fought to get City Council study sessions broadcast because so much information is discussed before votes are taken at regular meetings.

The newest council members said they are pleased with a number of changes that have taken place during their tenure, including creating full-time firefighting positions, securing Stryker cots and a Lucas machine for the Fire Department, creating a city telephone app and other initiatives.

The My Riverview app is free to download and provides emergency alerts, snow emergencies, job openings in the city and much more.

When people ask him if they should run for City Council, Norton tells potential candidates they should seek office if it’s for the “right reasons” and be “willing to work.”

“If you want to make positive change and constantly be looking outside the box at ways to solve problems, yes I would,” he said. “I’m willing to work with anybody if we’re all working toward the same cause.”

O’Neil said it is important to be “open minded” and that she “welcomes change” and “fresh eyes’ on the elected body.

“Everyone’s opinion matters,” she said. “That’s the joy of having seven people on the council. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s the discussion you have to reach a decision that matters. We don’t always agree, but it’s important to have the respect to listen to each other’s opinions… Just because we don’t agree on an issue doesn’t mean I won’t listen to their opinions.”

The newest council members said they have used their early time on the job as a learning experience. Norton said he makes himself available all the time, so he devotes more time than he thought he would.

“Everybody has to be there for the people,” he said. “Everybody has to have access to you. It doesn’t matter if one person wants a dog park or someone else wants a bridge or there are questions about water bills. I’m an alternate on the public safety committee. I’m working with the fire chief… I’m on the brownfield committee and am involved with the Downriver Community Conference. I wanted to be on different committees to work with our neighbors.”

Both Norton and O’Neil said there is plenty more to do. For example, both would like to see city ordinances changed to allow food trucks to provide service at Young Patriots Park in the future.

“I absolutely really truly enjoy watching and being instrumental in helping the community,” O’Neil said. “We are involved in lots of things beyond meetings: conversations with the city manager, things on the agenda… Some meetings can go on for two hours. Some are 20 minutes.

“In different aspects, it has been as challenging as I thought it would be to make change. I think that if you need to look at the best interests of the community and be open-minded.”

If someone’s heart isn’t into it, she would discourage that person from becoming a candidate for City Council.

“If somebody came up to me and said, ‘I want to run,’ I would want to know why they are running, what their intentions are…  and then encourage them. If you want to make change, the only way you’re going to do it is to be involved.”

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