SALINE CITY COUNCIL ELECTION 2022: Meet Nicole Rice

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Nicole Rice is running for Saline City Council. She is one of five candidates before voters in the Nov. 8 election, along with Robert Cameron, Brian Cassise and incumbents Dean Girbach and Janet Dillon.

Below is our Q & A with candidate Nicole Rice.

NICOLE RICE

Biography

I am a 6-year resident of downtown Saline’s historic district. Though the rest of my family is from Michigan, I grew up in northwest Ohio. I spent my undergraduate years studying communication technology at EMU and then moved out East for graduate school where I studied publishing and communication arts. I spent over 10 years in the Washington, DC area working for a variety of organizations that served Congress, the federal government, and the military. While living in DC, my long-time partner, Christopher, retired from the Army and shortly thereafter we chose to move back to the Midwest to be nearer to our families. Once we settled into Saline, we immediately began building relationships with new friends and neighbors and looking for ways to contribute to the community. I currently serve on the City of Saline Code and Ordinance Commission, where I’m using my many years of technical translation skills to aid in the creation of and adjustments to ordinances that directly impact the citizens and businesses within the city. When not volunteering as the Communications Chair or slinging beers in the tent for Saline’s Summerfest, you can me and Chris walking our rescue pup, Ellie, all over the city.

Why are you running and why should voters elect you?

As a communicator by both nature and trade, my vision is to connect the citizens of Saline to the services and support available across the city through accountability, communication, and creating a sustainable future. I see a gap between the decisions being made in the city, and the understanding amongst citizen of how and why these decisions are being made. I hope to bridge that gap through open communication and finding innovative ways to reach all residents and constituents of Saline. We need to make sure we understand the needs of our community. It’s the only way to sustain the positive direction in which the city is currently headed.

What are your top priorities if elected? Why? And how would you work on these priorities?

I am campaigning on three concepts: Accountability, Communication, Sustainability. You’ll see these themes within all of my answers and the reason I’ve chosen them is because as a member of city council, I will hold these high for both myself and the City.

As a councilmember, my priorities will be the citizens’ priorities. I will work to connect with citizens, businesses, and city staff to ensure that there is balance between the community’s needs and the city’s plans. The key to this is communication and using every channel we have available to make sure that we’re reaching all segments of our community.

Obviously, the wastewater treatment facility will be high on everyone’s priority list. But it’s not just about fixing it or replacing it. It’s about looking at the sustainability of all water issues in Saline. New developments are depleting our resources. Old infrastructure is emptying our coffers. Environmental compliance, future expansion, and risks are knocking on our door. We have to create a sustainability plan.

Another topic of priority for me and many folks with whom I’ve spoken is community development. Saline is a bedroom community on the brink of being a destination. We’re so close! What we need is a focused effort to create a safe, accessible, and vibrant downtown, as well as a plan to connect the west and east sides of the city. Transportation, walkability, beautification . . . there are many discussions that need to be brought to the table. Most importantly, citizen and business input will be key to any successful development in the future.

Do you support the city's new road millage? Why or why not?

Yes, infrastructure (buzzword of the year) is a very high priority in any town or city. Despite all the federal monies floating around, it is imperative that cities maintain their own sources of revenue that surpass any grant or specially-funded deadlines. Costs of materials and labor are going up and, unfortunately, that cost trickles down to the citizens. Now, with that said, I do also fully support, and will contribute to, the city’s efforts in getting our hands on outside funding and other angles of sustainable revenue streams.

Are you happy with the direction of the City of Saline? Please explain your answer.

Yes, I believe that the past few years have proven that the city is heading in the right direction. We made it through both COVID and a mass exodus of city staff relatively unscathed compared to other cities.

However, I feel there are important tasks ahead to ensure the sustainability of the progress we’ve made. For example, succession planning for staff. There have been many great hires in recent months. What did we learn from the recent retirements/turnover and how can we better plan for this in the future

Secondly, sustainment of infrastructure. So much work is being done, and so much more work is needed. Are we set up for success to see these projects through? Do we look further than project end? We must. We can’t just wipe our hands and move on once a project is complete. We have to look at the entire lifetime of the asset, and continue to adaptively manage projects.

Also, are we staying ahead of the game on environmental initiatives, and do we take into account segments of the community who do not have the resources necessary to contribute to a greener future? An environmental sustainability plan is high priority.

Lastly, I believe communication between the city and the community is getting better. But is there a plan, or are we just winging it? I would like to see a full communications plan that includes residential and business engagement and follow-up, pointed marketing to the various segments of the community, and a more robust strategy for use of communications tools (ie, more than Facebook).

The City of Saline investigated a council member for an ethics policy investigation - and then refused to divulge information about the investigation. Do you support the decision to conceal details about the investigation? Why or why not?

I have no first-hand knowledge of any of the specific facts or of those involved in this particular issue. Here’s what I’ll say about the topic, if it is a personnel issue, I believe the city has a right to manage the information in a discrete manner. However, if it is an issue that involves the use of taxpayer-funded resources, or in any way impacts decisions being made about taxpayer-funded resources, then yes, this information should be made publicly available, albeit redacted as necessary to remove personally protected information. The city is currently working to update its Ethics Policy and anyone interested in learning more can attend the public meetings about it. I plan to do so, for sure.

Should council regulate marijuana businesses more than it does alcohol or tobacco businesses? Why or why not?

Marijuana was legalized by vote in the state of Michigan. I think that’s an important thing to remember. However, because this is new territory, and because marijuana is not federally approved or regulated, the City has created ordinances to help guide future planning for dispensaries and the adult use of marijuana. I agree with the need to create such ordinances.

To say it should or should not regulate marijuana businesses more than an alcohol or tobacco business is a slightly narrowed way of looking at it. Should we make sure we’re looking at this new venture from all angles? Yes. But saying that we should, or that we are, regulating it more than alcohol or tobacco is not a black or white issue. There are nuances with every establishment request and considerations to be made. Some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. I’d be more than happy to talk specifics about any of the current applications with anyone in the community who would like to know more on my feelings about this topic.

The city has enacted the fire assessment - the latest tax hike on city residents. At the same time water and sewer rates are rising dramatically. What, if anything, can council do to keep this city affordable?

This goes back to my intentions on forward-thinking and adaptive management of city assets and projects. We have to look ahead and what’s coming down the pipeline. The past few years were unlike any time in our Nation’s history. Comparisons can be made to certain times in the past, however, those lessons learned aren’t completely applicable to what we’ve just gone through. We have to take what we’ve learned, and are continuing to learn, look ahead at future risks, and work with other entities to find ways of maintaining a sustainable funding mechanism that minimizes impact on citizens and maximizes partnerships and revenue.

What is city council's role in attracting businesses to town?

The information-based decisions that are made by city council should always take into account business impacts. Every decision I make as a member of City Council will be business-forward. As for attracting new business, I do not believe this is the role of city council, specifically. I am a proponent of city planning and downtown development, both of which should be aspects of city administration. We have made some strong hires in this area recently with our new City Manager and Development Director. However, I’m in favor of creating an entire department around city planning. My ideal scenario would include a city planner, business development director, community events director, and an administrative/staff liaison. These staff members would interact directly with developers, business owners, event planners, and all others involved in planning and development. I believe in doing this, we could stave off some of the errors in planning that have happened in the past. It would also allow for more time to be spent focused on businesses across the entire City, not just the downtown area. Right now, City staff are working very thin. I would like to see staff be able to dive deeper into their expertise and build relationships so that our current and future businesses can get the service they need from the City, while at the same time being part of a plan to create a sustainable and vibrant living experience for all members of our community.

The rusty water situation seems to have improved. What else needs to be done on this front? What can council do to ensure the city is more responsive to citizen complaints like water quality and WWTP odor?

I believe the city is taking the correct actions necessary to remediate the brown water problems. The new City Engineer has worked diligently to source the issues, and DPW is using new tools to remediate some of the lingering problems of the past.

Where I took issue with the situation in its beginnings was the communication with citizens. Initially, it felt like staff was sitting back on its heels and relying too much on reaction rather than proactivity. I think perhaps it just caught everyone off guard. But again, this goes back to the need to look ahead at needs and risks and have a plan in place. A risk communications plan is key to any functioning entity. When a disaster takes place (now, granted, this wasn’t an actual disaster, but it did feel like one) you have to address the community immediately and reassure them that you are ready to hear from them, ready to take action, and ready to respond. It’s a feedback loop. The community says: “Hey, this is a huge problem for us.” The City address the community: “Here’s how you can reach us so we hear you. Here are the actions you can take. Here are the actions we are taking. And, most importantly, here’s when you’re going to hear from us again.”

This can’t be done over Facebook alone. We’re a small community. There isn’t much in the way of stopping us from literally going door to door to talk to people. Holding multiple town halls or other opportunities to interact with City staff are key to this type of communication. In my line of work I always say you have to communicate things three different times in three different ways in order to capture everyone. All of this can be achieved through the development and use a communications plan. This is a high priority for me.

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