SALINE CITY COUNCIL ELECTION 2022: Meet Janet Dillon

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Janet Dillon is running for re-election to Saline City Council in the Nov. 8 election. There are five candidates for three two-year terms on council, including Dillon, Robert Cameron, Nicole Rice, Brian Cassise and incumbent Dean Girbach.

Brian Marl is unchallenged as he seeks re-election to the mayor's chair.

Below is our Q & A with Janet Dillon.

JANET DILLON

Biography

My name is Janet Dillon. Together with my husband Matt and our children Sydney, Grace and Cooper have lived in Saline for 15 years. We chose Saline as it was a perfect combination of small town charm with nearby big city amenities, and a revered school district. This is our home. For those who may not be connected to me on social media and not already know, I love to support my community and can generally be found at local restaurants or events taking photos of my food and selfies with my husband. I love supporting my children as they grow into adulthood and find a path of their own. I also enjoy spending time doting on our sweet, but sometimes too barkey pup Finley. I have been an involved member of Saline City Council for 8 years. I understand the role of a Councilmember, and diligently work to represent the community as a whole. 

I take pride in being prepared and asking questions. I believe questions are a great catalyst to better understand an issue, expand the conversation, and see an issue from a different point of view. I believe in collaboration and finding common ground. I love policies and procedures as they provide clear guidance as to expectations through fair and equitable application. 

If I had to describe myself with one word, it would be engaged. Through listening to residents and business owners, participating in the community and understanding the impact of issues, I provide a needed perspective helping Saline remain a thriving community.

Why are you running and why should voters elect you?

I can wholeheartedly say that throughout my 8 years of service, I have remained an engaged, hardworking and trustworthy member of City Council. I take pride in being prepared, asking questions and seeing issues from other prospectives. Through my education and work experience I am able to provide an aspect of attention to detail especially in the drafting and reviewing of documents. I have obtained more than 500+ hours of municipal government training and learning opportunities since being first elected. I am an active board member to several local and regional organizations. I prioritize connecting with residents and business owners, participating in the community and recognize the impact of issues on the entire community. I understand the roles of a council member, both the governance aspect as prescribed in the City’s Charter as well as the “soft skills” of collaboration, compromise and communication. I have proven to be an effective council member and an asset to our community.

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

Prioritizing Infrastructure. Stable and well-maintained infrastructure is non-negotiable. We have learned that deferred maintenance/replacement is just kicking the can down the road. Eventually, you get to the end of the road and hard and expensive decisions have to be made. This is where we are now. The City has a duty to its taxpayers to be effective, responsible and proactive in the economic and strategic planning of all of its infrastructure requirements.

As the City moves into its upcoming strategic planning and budgeting cycle, Councilmembers must be ready to be involved in the process. I will continue to come to the dais thoroughly prepared to be an active participant in decision making. I will continue to ask questions. At this time, I believe the City has positioned itself very well in the hiring of key leadership employees which can bring about a new approach to addressing the needs of the City. Council relies on the experience, knowledge, recommendations and timely information by leadership as a guide. When there is a breakdown in the flow of information, decisions can be negatively impacted.

Financial Stability and Sustainability. The pandemic was not a moment in time. Its ripple effect will be long-lasting. We continue to see the costs for materials and labor skyrocket. In some instances, bids have returned more than 100 percent over budget. Supply chain interruptions also have a tremendous impact on financial viability. As we prioritize our spending we must also diligently account for market conditions.

Based on current financial projections, the next few years for the City will require deliberate, comprehensive planning and responsible spending to maintain financial stability. The City must continue to seek and realize financial opportunities through local, state and federal agencies to aid in offsetting rising costs and liabilities. I will continue to stress the importance of a designated grant coordinator/writer. This position would collaborate with City leadership to create a viable and successful potential funding stream for projects and opportunities.

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

I support the renewal of the road millage. I believe the City has, and will continue to use the millage dollars in an effective manner that benefits the City as a whole. Since 2019 the City has been able to leverage funding to complete more than 15 local road projects including partnering with the state and county to complete more comprehensive projects which generally would be out of the financial reach of Saline.

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

Happy, yes. Satisfied, somewhat. This is a very vague question for which an answer with specificity may be difficult without being too extensive. In general, Saline is a great community. It offers a high level of amenities and services, it is safe, clean and welcoming to residents and businesses. It provides a wonderful sense of community and there is always a willingness to help a fellow Salinian.

There are always areas in which improvement should be considered. Development and growth generally top this list. Over the past decade, Saline has made considerable forward motion, however, like other communities, it has also made some missteps along the way. Learning from those errors can aid in creating a more clear vision of smarter growth and development for Saline. The current issues with infrastructure is without question the elephant in the room. Again, the City fell short of its goals and objectives, however is taking steps forward with a formidable plan of action.

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?

In the Fall of 2021, there was an incident involving a City Councilmember in which the Saline police were contacted to intervene. Based on that occurrence, there was an allegation of a potential ethics violation by the Councilmember. The matter was handled by the City Manager and Mayor without the involvement or knowledge of all Councilmembers. Due to the absence of a formal policy or process, direction to proceed to action was left to those individuals to bring the matter before Council. To date that has not occurred and final resolution of the matter is still pending.

The City is currently drafting an ethics policy for Councilmembers. Optimistically the policy will address the shortcoming while providing clear and concise direction as to the process, timeframe, discipline, and appeal process.

I believe an ethics policy which includes an independent third party(ies) from outside of the community will provide an aspect of checks and balances to the Council body as a whole together with accountability to the community.

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

I sometimes feel as though the marihuana issue resembles the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. For some, there is not enough oversight, for others there is too much, and for a few, it’s just right.

I don’t know that this is an equal comparison in that there is one fundamentally great difference between marihuana and alcohol and tobacco, the later two are regulated by the federal government, with state oversight. Until the time when marihuana is legalized on the federal level and uniform guidance and policy is created, there will always be ambiguity in its regulation.

What should be done with the 207 S Monroe St land?

Several years ago the City explored multiple options as to the future of the City-owned 207 Monroe St. property. After presentations, deliberations and negotiations, the City chose a project and developer. As presented, the project on its face checked many boxes that aligned with the City’s vision and Master Plan. As time went on, the scope and timeline of the project changed considerably and it was clear that there was no longer a meeting of the minds regarding the proposed development. Currently, after exhaustive measures, the City purchased the property back from the developer and is looking at the new future for the property.

This property remains ripe for residential development. As the City awaits proposals for the sale and development of that property it now has an opportunity to direct that project to suit current needs of the community. I believe higher density, smaller square footage within a price range that allows market entry as well as aging in place would fulfill a needed market share. That said, in this current economic climate with concerns over inflation and rising interest rates which are expected to stagnate building and housing markets, timing will be everything. The City surely does not need another stalled project under its purview.

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?

Just to clarify, a Fire Assessment of up to 1 mil was approved by voters in November, 1994. Since its passage, the City chose not to exercise that assessment but rather utilized monies from the City’s general funds to cover the City’s portion of the Saline Area Fire Department budget. The City was the only municipally of the 4 governing bodies (City of Saline, Saline Township, Lodi Township and a portion of York Township) that did not activate the Assessment upon residents. The City’s need to activate the Assessment allows for availability of much-needed funding for infrastructure capital improvement projects.

In my opinion, increased water and sewer rates are the culmination of unsuccessful direction, planning, and dissemination of information. Deferred maintenance, failure to plan for timely expansion and adjusting rates to match inflation have led the City to the current situation. Acknowledging those shortcomings has created an opportunity to successfully move forward, albeit that motion involves a hefty price tag.

As for how to make Saline more affordable, there is always the low-hanging fruit of more diversified housing, public transportation, and tax abatements. That said, individuals need to look at the big picture as to taxes and affordability. Only a very small portion of taxes levied upon City residents remain in the City. A great school district comes at a cost, as does county amenities and services.

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

Fundamentally the primary role of City Council is to create policy to best guide and govern the community. Within that purview Council must look holistically at the entire City while creating a vibrant atmosphere that is welcoming, safe and of course thriving. The Saline Main Street program and model has done a fantastic job of placemaking for our Downtown. The City must now look to that formula and expand upon it to aid in the success and growth of businesses beyond the Four Corners. The City’s new leadership of the City Manager and Community Development Director each embody a proficiency in economic development and urban planning. I believe partnering that knowledge base together with creating a City Economic Development Director position would move the City into a proactive and strategic business forward mindset. Council would then have a clear vision upon which to create a thoughtful pathway for policy.

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?

Through diligent efforts the City has been able to identify deficiencies in its infrastructure and processes which have negatively impacted water quality. In response, hydrant flushing protocol and frequency has been improved, valves have been inspected and their position has been properly recorded, as well as several other items have been addressed. This remains a work in progress but has clearly corrected many of the issues. Staff has also created a metric which records the location of water quality issues which further aids in pinpointing areas in which further assessment or action is required.

Citizen engagement remains a piece of the puzzle the City hasn’t quite found how to make fit. The online water quality and odor complaint platforms are a great first step, but it’s not a one size fits all solution. Relying on online reporting may seem easy, but it has shortcomings on both sides.

Additionally, the assumption that every resident has a computer or device with access to the internet, or is able to navigate through several prompts to provide feedback may be naive. Likewise, assuming that all community members are on social media is short sighted. The City’s FYI newsletter is a great means of print communication, but it is only distributed quarterly. Maybe the City could consider returning to some basic forms of communication including a designated phone number for community members to provide comments, questions, concerns, or complaints. There may also be an opportunity for handwritten comment cards, and providing staff availability for walk ups during City events.

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