By Ralph Echtinaw
Four St. Louis residents will be on the ballot Nov. 5, competing for two open seats on the St. Louis City Council.
They are Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, Roger Collison, 69, and this reporter, 60.
I repeatedly offered to publish candidate profiles written by Leonard, Dean and Collison, but none were submitted. The following is mine.
I have been a homeowner in St. Louis since 2011 and in Alma for ten years before that. My primary source of income is a window cleaning company called “I Feel Your Pane” (established in 2001). My only employee is me, however. It’s more like owning a job than owning a business.
I’m a six-year Navy veteran (1977-83), a graduate of Oakland University (1988) and a newspaper reporter from 1988 to 2001.
I have run for public office twice before. The first was 2009 when I lived in Alma. Some 360 ballots were cast (6 percent turnout). I finished last among six candidates with 99 votes.
I didn’t get interested in running again until 2017.
Having been involved with the Gratiot County Republican Party since 2014 I was at a meeting in January 2017 when the issue of recruiting candidates to run for Alma City Commission came up. That got me to thinking about running again, and so I did that year, challenging incumbent St. Louis city councilmen George Kubin and Tom Reed.
During the “campaign season” I turned a personal blog site into a campaign site and started writing stories about St. Louis. I toured the wastewater treatment plant and DPW garage and wrote stories. I did a photo essay on a massive road reconstruction project on Prospect Street. And I enjoyed that so much that I decided to start an online newspaper for St. Louis if I lost.
Well, election day came, and I was trounced by Kubin and Reed, getting 56 votes out of 202 that were cast.
Within a week I founded the St. Louis Sentinel and have enjoyed writing about what’s going on in St. Louis. I found that, as a resident and homeowner, my interest level was high, and I always enjoy putting stories together and adding to the sum of my knowledge of what goes on here.
The St. Louis Sentinel doesn’t make any money, however, so I am still a window cleaner and expect I will continue as such until age 70 (health permitting).
What are my plans, if elected?
Although I haven’t held elected office before, I’ve covered enough boards and commissions over the years to know that their primary function is oversight of the administration.
City Manager Kurt Giles and the supervisors who work for him are trained professionals who know more about their respective jobs than any city council member will ever know. But they need someone to question them about almost everything they propose. We don’t want city officials who think they can do anything because city council is a rubber stamp.
Most of what these administrators do is the essential nuts and bolts of running the city; i.e. roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, electricity, accounting, parks, ordinance enforcement, police protection, building permits, etc.
Money is tight, and there isn’t much in the way of discretionary funds. As much as we’d all like to have every dilapidated road in town repaired, it simply can’t be done with the money that is coming in now.
That said, city council members do have some say in the big decisions, like whether or not to build a new city hall a few years ago.
Nowadays there is a lot of consolidation of services going on between Alma and St. Louis. They are parties to a single contract with Republic, the trash hauler. They have a joint water system. And Alma recently agreed to take over St. Louis’ property assessing needs on a contract basis.
I’d like to continue that trend, possibly by looking into combining police departments. That could reduce the overall cost of police protection for property owners in both cities and improve the retention rate of police officers.
One of the things I’m trying to do with the Sentinel is raise awareness among residents of what’s going on with city government and the schools. The more that people know about city and school district business the more likely they are to vote in local elections. St. Louis has 2,534 registered voters, but just 202 voted in the last city election. That’s pathetic.
Let’s see if we can get that up to at least 300 on Nov. 5. I want to see more St. Louis residents take an interest in local government and become knowledgable voters; and actually take the time to vote.