OPINION: Elect Marl as Mayor, Girbach, Dillon and McClelland for Saline City Council
The Saline Post editor and publisher Tran Longmoore offers the endorsements for the City of Saline elections.
Incumbent Mayor Brian Marl and Councillor Christen Mitchell are running for Mayor. Incumbents Dean Girbach and Janet Dillon, and Heidi McClelland, Brian Cassise, Dawn Krause and Jenn Harmount are running for city council. All positions are for two year terms.
Saline Mayoral Race
Forget about the answers to the questions for now. We have track records for Mayor Brian Marl and his opponent Christen Mitchell. Based on the track records, either candidate is equal to the task. But you only get one vote.
That said, the Saline Post endorses Brian Marl. Marl was elected Mayor in 2012. In eight years, he's had his share of success stories and missteps. But the successes overshadow the mistakes. Compare Saline in 2012 to pre-COVID-19 in 2020. The budget situation is rosier. Our sidewalks are in better shape. Michigan Avenue was reconstructed - along with the infrastructure underneath. He helped bring the Emagine Theatre to town and that plaza is now healthy. He's worked with small business owners to help make downtown Saline a livelier place. Our industrial parks are still fairly busy.
Marl continues Gretchen Driskell's tradition of encouraging civic engagement, bringing industry leaders together with concerned citizens to serve on committees and task forces that take on issues in the community.
Marl doesn't seem to have any misconceptions about what he is. He's pro-business development. He's pro-housing development. He advocates for "smart growth," though he seems willing to stretch the limits of smart, at times, to cater to growth. (For example, try to envision why the city would have ever agreed to a backwards hardware store, next to the unfinished hotel, to greet drivers as they motor through the eastern gateway.)
Marl brings a lot of personality to the position. He's been known to deliver sassy rebukes to people at the council table. But for the most part, he represents the city well in almost every interaction. When it comes to the ceremonial role - a big part of the job - it's difficult to imagine a better candidate.
Despite the "Brian D. Marl - The Mayor" pomp, he's also pragmatic. He makes a list of things that need to be done. And then he goes through and gets things done. Maybe it's the sidewalk program. Maybe it's his leadership on a road millage that's helped fix local roads. It's not all showy, either. Nobody in the general public is paying attention to whether or not the city is paying down pension liabilities faster than some municipalities - yet that's what Saline is doing.
It's easy to list complaints. The wastewater treatment plant smell. The hard water. We're all guilty. But who's kidding who? Saline's a great place to live. And it's flourished under Marl's leadership.
Saline City Council
There are no "wrong choices" for Saline City Council. If you want change, you've got options. Any assortment of the six council candidates could get elected and ably serve the city of Saline.
Frankly, it's hard to buy the case for change at the city council level.
Before moving forward, it was disappointing to see Mitchell leave her council seat to challenge Marl for Mayor. She's been an important voice on council and has helped shape what should be another positive couple of years for the city. Should she lose her mayoral race, council will miss her contributions.
The Saline Post endorses Dean Girbach, Janet Dillon and Heidi McClelland.
Girbach is the longest-serving member of council and brings institutional knowledge that's more and more valuable as the city loses key staff to resignation and retirement. Over the past four years, we've seen Girbach call out shenanigans from the mayor and the critics of the mayor. Girbach is also about as shrewd as it gets when it comes to counting beans on spending decisions. Here's another key thing to know about Girbach. These days, you might get "canceled" if you don't stand up to protect marginalized people. Girbach was standing up for marginalized people back when you risked getting "canceled" if you did stand up for them. So, in this regard, Girbach is the genuine article.
Dillon is completing her sixth year on council. At times, Dillon will drive one crazy, with questions that cross the line into micromanaging territory, and then keep going. (That's at least partially on the mayor, who runs the meetings and allows it to continue.) But the flipside to that is that Dillon asks questions nobody else will. Dillon pushes back when nobody else will. It's not easy, in a small town, to stand up to the pushy old guard (or the pushy new guard) and hold your own. And when powerful interests stand at the podium, Dillon does that, protecting the rights of the citizen who isn't there to defend their interest. Nobody on council does it better. And if that adds 20 hours a week to everyone's Monday nights and Tuesday mornings, so be it.
McClelland previously served two terms on council before stepping down last year. Now she's seeking re-election. McClelland doesn't get a lot of credit for her work on council. And then you look at some of the votes and stances McClelland took. She voted against the deal to sell the city property for the hotel - unhappy about the way the hotel group was trying to pressure council. When Damian Farrell tried to pressure council into increasing density at 207 S. Monroe Street, she voted against it. And McClelland was the only member of council to put real family needs (an IHA health center) above the dollars and cents of commercial development when the city was selling Michigan Avenue land. McClelland is a working mom and a business owner who brings decency to the council.