The contest has made for one of the more closely-followed races in recent years, and both Dodd and Smyka say that theres a considerable amount at stake with the decision. Thats one of the few points upon which both agree. These two very different women have very different views about the role of mayor and what Traverse City should have as its priorities in the coming years. Both say they are the antithesis of each other in many regards, and both build a strong case for why they should be the next elected mayor.
I have never known my opponent to take the initiative or to seriously question and demand answers from staff or to not be afraid of men in suits, said Dodd, a native of Scotland who became a Traverse City resident and American citizen about the same time, in 1977 and became a City Commissioner 20 years later.
I dont have an agenda of any sort, and the first time I ran for mayor I made it well-known that my only special interest was serving Traverse City,“ Dodd added. “I represent diversity and being mayor of all the people. That hasnt changed and there hasnt been a day since I took office that if a citizen has phoned or talked to me, I havent taken interest in their behalf. Michael Moore calls me Traverse Citys Braveheart, and the only mayor hell pay attention to. My record speaks for itself.
Smykas counters that her concept of the role of mayor is to not focus on differences, but to be a consensus-builder and a goal-setter, something she says she is by nature.
Those are things you want in a mayor, she explained. Margaret and I differ on many opinions and projects about Traverse City, especially vitality of downtown, why go downtown, the value of BATA, and setting firm goals for us as a city with checkpoints along the way.
Even though we have an elected mayor, there is a perception that there should be more power, but we have a city manager for that. The mayor should be facilitating city policy decisions and not interject themselves into day-to-day operations. This person should be a facilitator whose policy-making role tries to find common thread among commissioners and build support from the community. We should operate in and create an environment for working together for agreement and action. As a commissioner, I feel that we dont have a clear direction which should be provided by the mayor.
The road to an elected mayor was one that evolved from controversy back in 2000 when Dodd, then a city commissioner and mayor pro-tem was not appointed mayor in a four-three vote. Dodd Denied cried the oversized, bold headline in the next days Traverse City Record-Eagle, confirming what many thought should have been a routine appointment for a position that was largely that of a figurehead. Dodd says she had caught wind of this in advance, and put the word out to her supporters, who packed the commission chambers to speak on her behalf. Still, Dodd walked away empty-handed, leading to a movement to change the city charter three years ago to elect the mayor for two-year terms by popular vote. Through the process, Dodd was elected in 2001 over opponent Phill Orth.
She says she felt a sense of rightness about that vote, but adds that she felt that it put a weight of extra responsibility to do a good job because she had been elected, not appointed. To this day, Dodd is still puzzled by what took place.
I think there was a misperception that I was some sort of rabid liberal who would go nuts, but if you look at my record up to that point and still, youll see that Im the most moderate person in the group, Dodd stated. But I did, as I always have, question things and up to that point, it had not been appropriate to do that. You were supposed to take things as people who had always run them expected them to be.
They missed the very fact that because you ask questions and disagree on some of the peripheral issues doesnt mean youre against the whole thing, and that theyre not appointing me was a microcosm of what was wrong. I shed a spotlight on it, so it didnt happen behind closed doors. Public business should be carried out in public. Most people are eminently reasonable, and when they see the reasoning that goes into a decision, whether they agree or not, theres less of a knee jerk reaction. In this case, there was no reasoning and certainly none given for my not being appointed Mayor, and the community saw how very wrong it all was.
SENSE OF DIRECTION
Smyka, whose credentials include a longtime stint on the planning commission before her election to the city commission six years ago and a term as mayor in 1999, has a different take on the perceived dissent that many believe exists on the current commission and how she feels the group should function. She says she decided to run for mayor to give voters an option and begin the process of creating more cohesiveness among its members and goal-setting as a process for doing business and measuring accomplishment.
There are so many issues that come before us that have fallen through because of lack of follow-up that it suggests to the community that we have no clear sense of direction and that we dont know where the commission as a whole is going, said Smyka. I feel that the mayors role is to make sure that there is a cohesiveness between commission and city staff, and to be an articulate spokesperson to the public for the city. The goal-setting I propose is a means of reaching compromise to move action forward, as opposed to appearing fractions and floundering.
Specifically, Smykas goals include implementing a system of checks and balances on projects the commission undertakes, continuing to support downtown Traverse City through its Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program while being sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods, focusing on short and long term planning, making wise spending decisions within the limitations of the city budget, and dealing with the growing problem of motor vehicle pressures.
These goals are based on comments we received from a Light & Power survey we sent out last spring and from what I hear every day as I go door-to-door and listen to what concerns this community, said Smyka. People want less talk and studies and more action, and we can implement incremental approaches to some of these issues that can work, along with the assistance of our fabulous city staff. Ive worked in city government for 14 years, and have a deep appreciation for the knowledge and commitment our staff has, along with a great degree of respect for anyone who takes the time to give an opinion. For the last year or so, weve had the wonderful privilege of seeing so many projects come to fruition from the years past, but we need to be thinking about the future the way that previous commissioners have. And because were facing a deficit next year, its even more important we plan for the future.
Dodd says that her plan of attack for the next two years would be to continue to build on the successes the city has experienced for the past two years under her leadership. She points with pride to initiatives she personally launched, including introducing an industry tax abatement program to keep good-paying jobs in Traverse City; making an inquiry that resulted in the city receiving funds that had been mistakenly paid to Grand Traverse County for many years; implementing measures to protect unregulated wetlands; establishing a Fourth of July committee to celebrate our nations birthday; and starting a signage program to direct people to businesses not located on Front Street.
Its about how you see yourself, said Dodd, as a designated note-taker or someone who has the initiative to reach out and deal with these problems. Whether you agree with me or not, every decision Ive ever made has been on what I thought was in the best interest of Traverse City and Ive spent a lot of time trying to make contact with and build bridges where necessary between different governmental entities, from the Grand Traverse Band to the mayors of Dearborn and Detroit. Governor Granholm is going to endorse me, and this will be the first time shes endorsed any candidate. Ive schmoozed in Lansing so much because in this time of financial hardship at every level, I need to make sure that Traverse City is on the radar screen. All of these things have come from my own initiative, and you cant say that about my opponent.
Smyka says her focus will be more concentrated on the infrastructure and character of Traverse City, not how it is perceived by those outside of the region. Shes concerned about the issues of water, sewers, roads and sidewalks, and what needs to happen to keep downtown and neighborhoods vibrant.
The budget constraints were facing will be a tremendous challenge and I dont harbor any illusions that this will be a fun time to be an elected official, offered Smyka. I have a tremendous sense of commitment to the city that was founded in my planning commission roots and Im very attached to the master plan that was finally adopted and shepherding those values into reality. When I look around at downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but I also believe that the components that make a great city happen from choice, not chance. I will use a paradigm of integrity, abundance mentality and maturity to make sure that what happens here in the years ahead reflects choice, not chance and goals that were addressed and followed through on.
The stakes for this race are high, but in Dodds case, just a little bit higher. The election would seem to be hers to lose, because if she does, she will not remain on the commission, as would Smyka, who is mid-term in her commission seat and will stay, irregardless of the outcome. If Smyka is elected, then there will be a ripple effect from creating a vacancy for her seat for the final two years of her tenure, which could be filled through an appointment or a special election.
This is the same scenario Dodd faced when she ran against Orth two years ago. He lost the mayoral race, but stayed on the commission. Only one thing seems certain now as the hours count down till Election Day on November 4 - both candidates have their work cut out for them, and for the winner, it will only be a warm-up for what is to come in the next two years.
SIDEBAR PHOTO & CAPTION
photo candidates race: A televised forum of the Traverse City Commission candidates will be offered by We Are Traverse City, Inc. this Wednesday, Oct. 29 at the District Library. Candidates will meet and greet the public in the library meeting room, beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a forum televised on TCTV2 at 7 p.m. Pictured here from left-right are Margaret Dodd, Linda Symka, Scott Hardy, Gregory Irwin, Phill Orth, Ann Rogers and Ralph Soffredine. The public is invited to contribute questions for the event. For details, check out wearetraversecity.com.