If one candidate wins, it may be a conflict of interest. Another candidate is facing legal charges. Another just wants to hold on to his seat. Welcome to this year’s Cedar Springs City Council election, where two four-year terms are up for grabs.
One seat is being vacated by Mayor Linda Hunt, who retired, and the other seat belongs to Charlie Watson, who is running to regain it. The other candidates are Pamela Medford-Conley and Arthur Tiethoff. Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
This will be Charlie’s second term on the council, if elected. He has lived in the Cedar Springs area all of his life, other than when he was in the military. He graduated from Cedar Springs High School in 1982, and has an associates degree from Grand Rapids Community College. He has served as a firefighter at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids since 1990. He also served on the Cedar Springs Police and Fire Departments for 10 years.
During his time on the City Council, Watson has served on the planning commission, personnel and compensation committee, government liaison and finance committees, and several ad hoc committees. He is currently serving as Mayor Pro-tem, and recently completed the requirements to obtain his Level 1 Elected Official designation from the Michigan Municipal League.
Watson said he ran for office because he enjoys serving the people. “I like helping the community and letting the voice of the people be heard,” he said.
Watson said that he thinks the economy is the most important issue facing Cedar Springs. What does he think should be done about it? “I will continue to try to bring business and industry to the city,” he said.
As incumbent, Watson said the thing he is most proud of accomplishing is the resurfacing of city streets (such as East and West Muskegon) and the sidewalks they’ve been able to replace. He also said he’s proud of other things such as the restoration of the flowing well, but noted that, “without decent streets, you won’t get to those places.”
Pamela Medford-Conley has lived in Cedar Springs since 1999. She teaches communications at Forest Hills, and is the debate and forensics coach there. Conley has been active in the community, serving on the library board, the garden club, and she is currently in her second term on the Cedar Springs Board of Education. While on the Board of Ed, she has made several trips to Washington DC with the federal relations network to talk to legislators about what is and isn’t working in education.
Conley said she was prompted to run for office because of some issues she’s had with the city. “I’ve had some issues with zoning—how the laws are enforced and what they are. We need some clarity on that,” she said. She also added that if she’s not willing to step up, she can’t complain.
Conley agreed with Watson that the most important issue facing the city is the budget crunch. “There is declining revenue from state and property taxes, so we have to make tough choices to allocate the resources we have. The face of the community is changing—there’s new housing, new people, and our choices need to reflect that. We’re turning into the ‘burbs.”
Conley’s service on the Board of Education has some wondering whether serving on the Cedar Springs City Council might be a conflict of interest. The school reportedly contacted Kent County Elections Director Sue DeStiguer last summer to see if she could legally serve on two elected boards if she were to be elected in November. The Elections Director then contacted the city. City Clerk Linda Branyan sent Conley a letter explaining that she had been contacted about it, and that it was not something prohibited by the city. However, she did point her to Michigan Compiled Law, Act 566 1978, on holding incompatible offices. Branyan noted in her letter that the Attorney General and the Michigan Supreme Court have ruled on the matter, and pointed to the incident in Muskegon County where an individual elected to the Muskegon School Board and County Board of Commissioners was ordered to resign from one of the positions by a Circuit Court judge who ruled he was in violation of the Act 566. Branyan said in her letter that the problem for Conley might be that there are contractual agreements between the city and school board. She said she was writing to give her time to do her own research, and contact an attorney if necessary. Branyan said she would be happy to sit down with Conley and show her the information. But Conley never responded to Branyan’s letter.
“My lawyer advised me not to,” said Conley. “That letter was not appropriate prior to an election. Anyone gets to run for office.” She said that she had spoken with two lawyers, and both said that the jobs would not be incompatible. “In the Muskegon County Case, there was an overarching county board. Are they going to say the city is subservient to the school board?” she asked. “This is not even remotely an issue.”
Art Tiethoff has lived in the district for 37 years, and is a retired electrician. He feels that his skills as a project leader at work will be valuable as a city councilor. “I will stand up for what is right,” he said.
Why is he running? “I see the need for someone to represent the people. I believe in a government for the people by the people. Sometimes it seems the other way around.” Tiethoff also said he thinks the economy is the biggest issue facing Cedar Springs. “I think we should be careful on how money is spent for the taxpayer as well as for the city…I believe we should live within our means, not just within someone’s wishes. If the people can’t afford something, hold off til they can.”
Tiethoff is currently facing a misdemeanor charge of malicious destruction of property, for allegedly putting a scratch in another person’s car. It’s a charge he vehemently denies. “I’m not guilty,” said Tiethoff, “but it’s up to the court to decide.” Police were called to a home on S. Second on July 29, where someone allegedly observed him make a scratch on the rear bumper of someone’s brand new vehicle. He was arraigned on Oct. 7, and has pled not guilty. He is scheduled for a jury pick on November 19.
Tiethoff knows that the situation may cost him a seat, although he is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. “The people that know me will vote for me,” he said.