Candidates for the Adrian City Commission turned in their petitions this week, and one thing is basically certain: there will be at least two new faces on the commission after the November election.
Commissioners Julie Berryman Adams and Jerry Gallatin have both decided not to seek re-election to a second term, leaving Tom Faulhaber as the only incumbent in the race. Six people are running for three seats on the commission. All commission terms are four years long, and the mayor’s term is two years.
As we reported previously, Kirk Valentine is challenging incumbent Jim Berryman for the office of mayor.
Keep reading for information about each of the six city commission candidates.
Chuck Chase, 69, is no stranger to city government. He served on the Adrian City Commission for 28 years, beginning in 1977, before being defeated for re-election in 2005. Chase is retired from Masco Cabinetry, formerly Merillat Industries, where he worked for seven years in human resources and then 25 years in marketing and training.
“I really missed the political arena and I got the urge to run again,” Chase said. he told Adrian Today that the city needs to look at creative ways to fund its programs and strengthen its partnerships with entities like Lenawee Now. The city also needs to pursue regional collaboration in areas like public safety and water services, he said.
Chase said he’d like to see the city hire a grant writer, a position that he said could pay for itself a hundred times over.
He also said he’s prepared to recommend a major change in the way the city elects commissioners. In an effort to get more representation from the east side of the city, he said, Adrian could look at switching from an at-large commission to one where commissioners are elected from geographic districts.
Tom Faulhaber, 62, is the only incumbent running for re-election this year. He previous served on the commission for four years in the 1980s, then was elected again in 2001. He studied business administration at Siena Heights University and is now semi-retired and a self-employed landscaper. He and his wife, Marcia, have two adult children.
A lifelong resident, Faulhaber said economic development and creating a friendlier business climate should be major priorities for the commission. He said he would like to see the city make its sign regulations less restrictive and streamline the bidding process for city contracts, and, like Chase, he wants to see the city hire a full-time grant writer.
Faulhaber often speaks about beautification and improving the appearance of parks, roadways and rundown properties in the city. He is the founder of Maple City Releaf, a nonprofit organization that seeks to plant 5,000 trees and shrubs along Adrian streets and parks; he said the organization has planted 383 so far and is seeking grants for more. He also said the city should be more green and that the commission needs to look at making curbside recycling universal.
Nicole Gestwite, 29, works in home health care and is pursuing a degree in teacher education from Adrian College. She is also a civil rights activist who advocated for the expanded anti-discrimination ordinance that was passed by the city commission last year and a co-founder of Michigan’s Accidental Activists, a group that originally formed around opposition to a bill that would have granted religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. She has a son who attends Adrian Public Schools.
Gestwite told Adrian Today, “I am excited to offer my passion for education, equality and community to our city as well as be a voice for those underrepresented in our city’s government — those of a minority socioeconomic status, educators, mothers.”
Gestwite said she’d like to see the city partner with more cultural programs, such as those recognizing the African American, Hispanic and Native American heritage of Adrian, and look at ways to improve recycling, possibly by finding incentives or partnering with schools to educate about recycling opportunities. “Let’s get creative!” she wrote in a message about her candidacy. “There are many things we are doing right, but just like any other city, we have a long way to go.”
Allen Heldt, 35, is an Adrian business owner making his second run for a city commission seat. He previously sought the office in 2013.
Heldt has been the owner of Biggies Pizza in the Adrian Mall for 14 years. He serves on the Lenawee United Small Business Committee and the Job Readiness and Trial Work Experience programs of Goodwill Industries. He is also a youth baseball and football coach with the YMCA and Pop Warner programs. He and his wife have two children who attend Adrian Public Schools.
In a press release announcing his candidacy, Heldt said he is “most concerned with the current state of decision making by the city commission.” Like mayoral candidate Kirk Valentine, Heldt criticized Mayor Jim Berryman for saying he will only bring issues to the commission if he knows he has enough votes to pass them (more on that here). Heldt said this leaves the public out of the discussion.
Ray Lennard, 38, is the curator of the William G. Thompson House museum in Hudson. A graduate of Madison High School, he studied history at Adrian College and then earned his master’s degree in information management from the University of Michigan. His community involvement includes serving on the board of the nonprofit Lenawee County Historical Museum and being president of the Lenawee County Civil War Roundtable, a group that studies the Civil War era. He’s also been active with local libraries.
Lennard said he’d like to give back to his community. The budget will be a big issue for the next commission, he said, with the city needing to make sure it can continue to meet basic needs like police, fire and sanitation. He also said he would like to work to increase buy-in in the Adrian community, especially among people his age and younger.
Lennard and his wife, Kara, have lived in the city for about 15 years.
Lad Strayer, 60, is making his first bid for public office, but he’s been a familiar face around Adrian for years as a photojournalist for The Daily Telegram and the co-owner of wePhoto, a local photography business.
Strayer, a lifelong Adrian resident, said running for office is “something that I’ve thought about for quite a while, and basically it comes down to my interest in local government, how a city runs.” He said he believes he has a good sense for the pulse of Adrian, since his work has always brought him into contact with people from all walks of life — “people who are living the dream and those who are living on the streets.”
He said economic development, particularly downtown, should be a major priority for the next four years. “I think the downtown is sort of the face of the city,” he said. “When businesses are looking at a town, they look at your downtown.” He is married to Deb Strayer and has two adult children.