Q&A With Saline City Council Candidate Christen Mitchell
Christen Mitchell is one of five candidates running for Saline City Council. While not an incumbent (Jack Ceo is the only incumbent in the race), Mitchell previously served two terms on council. She's joined on the ballot by Ceo, Jenn Harmount, Chuck Lesch and Brian Cassise. Voters will choose three members of council.
Here's our Q&A with Christen Mitchell.
I earned a master’s degree in health administration with an emphasis in organizational development. My work experience is quite diverse: everything from working in large health systems to working for a small family-owned business in trade. I have previous experience as a councilmember - served two terms before stepping away for three years.
What’s your motivation for running and why are you the right choice to serve on council?
I view city council work as public service, not politics. My years of professional experience and education mean I have the hard skills needed, such as contracting, research, quality improvement projects and performing critical analyses. My pledge is to improve communication. Proactive, early communication is important in situations involving water and sewer systems, road construction, dam safety and maintenance, changes in city services, and more. I’d like to see communication with residents improve and be part of that effort.
What issue will rank as your top priority if elected?
I will work with council to better support the downtown, particularly focusing on businesses that draw people there. Cities that focus on robust and resilient downtowns ultimately build stronger business opportunities across the entire city. We are in a time of losing downtown retailers currently. I would prioritize a stronger partnership with Saline Main Street from day one to bring these businesses to Saline. While doing so, we need to continue to maintain focus on overall infrastructure. The Wastewater Treatment Plant renovations will begin, but it’s important to step back and look at all services. Residents should not be regularly experiencing brown household water, for example. Flushing pipes is an acceptable short-term fix. We need to make plans for the long-term fix.
To get an idea about your willingness to use government power to coerce people to do things against their will, and to get an idea of your willingness to stand up against the orders of higher government, we’d like you to answer this question: Before the courts struck down Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, the city was about to adopt it. How would you have voted? Please explain your answer.
Working in the medical field meant I complied with vaccine mandates so I could work with patients. Big government is very pertinent to local issues -- for example, some Saline residents questioned why our planning commission and council approved several marijuana shops at the same time. The role of government isn’t to sort out which businesses are “allowed” to open in our city-- if a business legally meets the requirements, it may open. Individual responsibility rightfully lies with the business owner to perform market research and make their own decisions. I made a public comment during a recent council meeting cautioning against excessive limits for business signage. I’m not someone who believes that government is the solution to every problem.
The council recently formed a Human Rights Commission to investigate alleged violations of the NonDiscrimination Ordinance. Do you support the formation of this body? Can you think of any instances/examples where this will be used? While fighting discrimination is important, what assurances can you give people that this commission won’t be used to punish people for wrongthink?
We in this country are free to believe any number of things. The NDO and HRC address behavior-- not beliefs. Having an NDO and HRC means the city helps ensure all are welcome and safe here.
Council recently voted to outsource local police dispatch service. Does the city need its own police department? Please explain your answer.
I personally can see no reason at this time to outsource Saline’s police. If that discussion begins, it needs to come with a different style of engagement than the police dispatch conversation. We need good hard numbers and plenty of opportunities for residents to give their input. Most of all, residents need to know their council representatives will work for their best interest, that citizens are respected and listened to.
Can a town of 9,000 people continue to fund a Rec Center that serves the wider community? What solutions can you see?
I spoke publicly at a meeting against federal covid money going exclusively towards the Rec Center while water/sewer rates skyrocketed, and was glad to see that shift towards infrastructure. It is generally a good idea to have a Rec Center in the area. I’m pretty conservative financially, carefully prioritize spending tax dollars, and analyzed the Rec Center Task Force proposal through that lens. The current proposal expands the existing pool with some other modest upgrades at a $7m price tag. However, the center will not attract more traffic unless the features are exceptional and unique. Adding mundane amenities will not bring in needed returns on investment. For solutions, I’d encourage funding from grants, partnering with NGOs, or exploring a private company to take it on.
The city charter has a plainly narrow definition of the mayor’s duties, yet Saline has a long history of mayors working 20-30 hours a week from city hall. Do you see a problem with this? Or is this a good thing for the city? Please explain your answer.
Our charter says that we have a council-manager system, meaning the mayor is supposed to set the agenda and perform ceremonial duties at a wage of ~$5k a year. Looking at the city of Plymouth, which is similar in size to Saline and has $10m more in budgeted general fund dollars, their mayor works full time for UM. Plymouth’s website has an excellent description of why the council-manager form of government is best: “it was[created] in response to corruption and patronage that plagued many cities…designed to ‘professionalize’ local government and resembles the structure of a corporation or a non-profit.” For these reasons, Saline should not only retain a council-manager system, but whoever is mayor should certainly work within the law and spirit of the charter as well.
Are you satisfied with the direction of the city? Please explain your answer.
Residents repeatedly ask for better communication from the city, consistent and quality city services, a more vibrant downtown, and financially accessible housing. I would like to see the council work more intentionally toward these larger goals.
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