SALINE CITY COUNCIL ELECTION 2022: Meet Dean Girbach

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Dean Girbach is seeking re-election to Saline City Council. He is one of five candidates for three two-year seats on council, joining Brian Cassise, Nicole Rice, Robert Cameron and incumbent Janet Dillon.

Mayor Brian Marl, also up for re-election, is unchallenged.

Below is our Q & A with Dean Girbach.

DEAN BENJAMIN GIRBACH

Biography

My relevant experience involves twenty-five years of commitment to Saline's government, including 18 years as a council member. I have and continue to serve on numerous commissions and task forces. The most recent focusing on risk management, water quality, water distribution and wastewater management. My work career prior to retirement included nearly thirty-five years in administration and finance while at the University of Michigan. I currently serve as President and Co-Treasurer of the Saline Area Historical Society. I have a proven record including valuable institutional knowledge, a consistent and beneficial approach to problem-solving, insistence on accountability, and demand for equitable consideration in approach to policy.

Why are you running and why should voters elect you?

During my tenure, council has annually adopted a balanced budget, maintained a consistent city millage rate and continued to provide needed services. I continue to serve on numerous city commissions and task forces, the most recent focusing on; risk management, water quality, water distribution and wastewater management.

While on council, the city has continually completed significant infrastructure improvements and renewals, expanded every aspect of its tax base and continued to work towards an inclusive and welcoming city. Our community remains safe, forward-focused and dedicated to providing a high quality of life.

I have dedicated nearly half of my life to Saline's well-being. I am committed to being prepared for meetings, fully engaged in participation, and driven by strong principles.

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

Immediate goals must focus on infrastructure renewal. All resources must now be carefully leveraged to address deferred maintenance while achieving the best outcome overall. Federal and State funding recently made available are opportunities of which our city must diligently seek out. We must take advantage of our new legal services expertise and recommendations to address potential roadblocks associated with “perceived” economic advantages and penalties related to successful financial stewardship of our city.

Inflation and supply chain issues will continue to limit our ability to accomplish projects for the near future. City services will be reevaluated for efficiency and cost effectiveness. Technology advancements, behavioral changes and realistic cost savings must be accepted if staff are to achieve effective change and work through these unprecedented challenges.

Of course, the greatest and most involved priority will be the remodeling of the wastewater treatment plant. All necessary steps from design, finalized funding and actual construction of the facility will occur within the next 12-18 months. As a key member of our WTP/WWTP task force, I will continue to work diligently toward assuring this project is properly evaluated and implemented once and for all.

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

Yes. These critical funds fill the gap where federal and state support are lacking for our internal residential streets. Without these additional funds, road infrastructure will continue to worsen. Minor streets will primarily be patched instead of replaced. A dedicated road millage, in combination with Act 51 and other Washtenaw County roads millage funds, will allow our city to properly maintain and improve overall conditions throughout Saline. As evidenced by how well these funds have been used, please take a look at Mills, Highland, Lawson, Hillcrest and Pleasant Ridge. These dedicated funds not only improved the road surfaces, it also addressed curbs, sidewalks and delayed storm sewer replacement/enhancements.

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

Honestly, not entirely. Saline’s success lies in its ability to adequately meet the expectations of its citizens and community partners. As a growing and reinventing city, there are many challenges and demands which require immediate attention, namely basic services (water, roads, sewers) and public safety being a constant concern. The need for outcomes instead of planning has cost the city in terms of effectiveness and reputation. I have challenged council to stop, step back and evaluate, a behavior not generally supported if it is met with resistance or appearance of weakness.

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?

As seen at the Federal and State level, ethics investigations are time intensive, complicated and highly political. Why would the process be any different at the local level?

I support that all ethics complaints against a councilmember be brought to the immediate attention of the full council during a public meeting and then properly investigated. Depending on the severity and those involved, some confidentiality may still be warranted to protect innocent parties until the review is completed. If a criminal matter is involved it is generally handled in a concurrent investigation by the appropriate authorities

Currently however, without a clear ethics policy in place, the city reverts to a generally accepted approach of conducting investigations through its city manager and mayor. FULL responsibility falls upon those two officials to conduct a legitimate investigation, preferably with legal counsel, and then hopefully upon completion, a timely deliverance of their results to council for action.

Council is the always the final authority, operating without an accepted policy and procedure though can results in ambiguity. If a majority of the council decide to take no action, an ethic complaint may never come to light. It is then locked in legal limbo. Councilmembers of the minority opinion are then at risk of committing a breach of ethics by pursuing as it may fail to give the violator their due process.

It is this lack of policy that makes adopting a clear and concise policy imperative to provide proper disclosure to the electorate.

As to disclosure, City of Saline releases legally protected information by order of the court or if allowed, based on the direction of the majority of the council, again this action still depends on four (4) votes and legal ramifications.

Generally, though, any citizen can request information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding actions of the city, often providing relevant details if available. Police videos and reports, although subject to minor redaction, are easily attainable. It's really just a question of effort by an individual or the media.

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

Alcohol and tobacco are controlled at the state level, with most local control removed over the years. Regulating those two aspects are now almost entirely out of local council hands, whether we like it or not. The State of Michigan however, granted local governments the ability to regulate marijuana facilities and it is available for our consideration and use.

As local regulations are generally based upon business impact, perception, attitude, beliefs and concern for safety at the time enacted, how these are implemented depend directly on the voice and participation of the community, As such, it is then up to elected/appointed officials and the city staff to determine if all, some or none are to be implemented. Marijuana, unlike alcohol or tobacco, is still illegal at the Federal level. As a city we must also be aware there is a risk of allowing numerous new facilities knowing competition and ultimate consolidation will weed out many in a short period. Ignoring an opportunity to protect our economic base and its diversity from speculators, immediate impacts and oversaturation is an appropriate use of these regulations and a worthwhile safeguard.

What should be done with the 207 S Monroe St land

Preferably the city simply sell the property to a developer who has adequate resources to develop the property by-right, without rezoning or multiple variances. It is though important the sales price reflect reality of the market and the sale clearly benefits the city overall.

Although the housing market may be slowing, the demand within the city is still strong. If an opportunity presents itself to encourage smaller footprint homes or more attainable housing, those proposals may take precedence if solid financing is in place, the timetable is realistically achievable and minimal accommodations are required.

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?

Affordability is a concern in every community. The council's responsibility is to effectively strategize and provide direction in an attempt to properly manage resources, prioritize services, control costs, and make informed decisions to add, change or eliminate functions that still meet the majority of community expectations at the price they are willing to pay.

New revenue from growth in tax base and additional utility users is helpful to spread out fixed costs, but generally limited in impact due to availability of developable parcels and actual usage. In addition some burden can be relieved through requiring developers to provide additional payments to meet the true cost of providing access and use of our infrastructure.

Lastly, with the city generally seen as the center of our Saline community, there is a need to evaluate the true benefit our city provides to surrounding townships and other taxing entities. As an example, our city continues to provide the majority of recreational parks and facilities for the general, non-school involved population of the surrounding community. The city simply can not be expected to allow these types of "subsidies" to go unaddressed.

Attainability and affordability are dependent on the overall tax impact of all local millage. Proposals by taxing entities, even the schools, which impact city taxpayers must be considered with great thought as the benefit is not necessarily a two-way street.

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

Council’s role is to provide both an image and opportunities that are representative of our goals and values to attract, retain and encourage investment in our community.

When and where possible, the council can address infrastructure needs, work
with developers and business owners to develop better policy, encourage staff to coordinate activities with SPARK, MEDC and other agencies, and provide the resources to assure timely and adequate responses to businesses requesting city service.

Council is also key in balancing the benefits of government regulations, zoning and ordinances. While safety and public welfare take precedence, council can establish clearer and more realistic policies and guidelines to achieve effective compliance and outcomes.

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?

Fortunately, with the creation of a citizen-involved task force, hiring of new staff, emphasis on honest disclosure, effective leadership and EGLE’s cooperation, many of the past problems are being addressed proactively.

As long as the council supports new staff, especially our WWTP/ WTP and DPW directors, provides adequate resources, emphasizes real change management and insists upon a beneficial operating culture where deficiencies are not tolerated, we will see continued improvement and stabilization.

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