Nine interviewed for councilPublished 9:47am Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
For three hours Monday afternoon into evening, Mayor Pro Tem Leon Laylin and his committee of Second Ward Councilman Bob Schuur and Third Ward Councilman Dr. Charles Burling interviewed nine candidates for two Dec. 7 Dowagiac City Council appointments.
“Whoever gets it will be sworn in that night and be seated on the board,” Laylin said.
Seeking Wayne Comstock’s seat in Second Ward are Dave Daniels, James Dodd, James Benedix and Nancy Leonard.
Quizzed for Darron Murray’s First Ward council seat were Junior Oliver, Bob Mortimore, Howard Hall, Tonnie Blackamore and Ron Leatz.
Today let’s look at Second Ward:
Daniels, Dowagiac Union Schools maintenance supervisor, has served on the Planning Commission and the Construction Board of Appeals. He has been president of the Dowagiac Girls Softball Association. He assisted with Celebration Graduation in 2007. His wife, Cathy, works for the city. Her father, Bernard Peterson, was a Second Ward councilman.
“Through my experience, both with the carpenters union and the schools, I’ve sat on both sides of the table,” Daniels said. “Being a worker with the carpenters local, I had a chance to negotiate for the brotherhood. With the schools, I saw the management side. It’s difficult at times to make the tough decisions, but you always have to look at the long-term planning and relationships that are going to develop.”
He worked in transportation for the Buchanan schools for two years before joining Dowagiac.
His resume indicates he has a record of starting at the bottom and working his way up in organizations. “That’s something I can bring to the council,” he said. “With the schools, I understand budgetary problems, contract negotiations, downsizing, the need to set long-range, tactical plans and to work together as a board to achieve those concepts.”
“Being available to listen to your constituents” he lists as a priority.
“I don’t believe I’d ever disagree with somebody in a public meeting,” he said. “I’d listen to their thoughts and concepts, then probably address them in written form.”
Dodd has been on the Fire Department since 1972. His goal was to serve for 40 years, but he indicated he would step down if that is deemed a conflict of interest. “I don’t want to, but I will.”
In fact, while all applicants professed a willingness to seek election in two years, Dodd stated he would “go one step further. I would serve the two years, serve four years then think seriously about running for mayor – of course, you don’t have to tell him that yet.”
Dodd worked for Jessup Door Co. from 1960 until it closed in 1996.
He also worked in the recreational vehicle industry in Elkhart, Ind., first as plant manager for Decor Stiles Division (1996-2000), then Sundowner Trailers (2000-2008) until he retired.
He serves on the city Planning Commission and Board of Review, won Fire Fighter of the Year twice and was Ambulance Attendant of the Year during 20 years as an EMT. He played an active role in setting up the Cass County Emergency Medical Services Council. He is a lieutenant with the Fire Department and president of the volunteers.
“The most important thing is to get jobs in Dowagiac so people have got a place to work and make a living so Dowagiac can prosper and expand. It’s going to take some hard work by the whole council and the city, but I can see it happening,” Dodd said. “It’s okay to agree to disagree. That’s one of your freedoms. But if I do, I’m going to tell you why.”
He sees a need for more youth activities.
“I agree with Howard Hall what he brought up about showing movies at the playhouse (Beckwith Theatre).”
Channeling involvement through Masonic Peninsular Lodge 10, he has been instrumental in organizing the city’s Memorial Day parade; training teachers to identify at-risk students, as Decatur did its first year in the program; maintaining nature trails at Kincheloe Elementary School; and a child identification program the Grand Lodge offers to present parents with a CD with fingerprints and photos in case he or she is missing.
Benedix, vice president of Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, has been an adviser to the DeMolay youth group for more than 30 years. He is a longtime finance committee member at First United Methodist Church.
In his job, “I train sales and service people on the equipment our corporation manufactures,” Benedix said. “Also, I have attended a couple of (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) conferences” when he and his brother, Gary, a former Cass County commissioner, were considering redeveloping the Goerlich building.
“Having grown up here, I have a very personal interest and pride in the community,” he said.
An important criteria in a council member would be being a team player.
“The team is responsible for administration of a multi-million-dollar corporation,” Benedix said.
“Working as part of the team and working toward common goals is critical for the success of the overall corporation. Once the team makes its decision, you stand with the team. You don’t rabble-rouse.”
The engineer’s community involvements have included Little League, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, including teaching Sunday school, and Boxtops for Education at Justus Gage Elementary School.
“I’m a pretty good people person,” she said. “People are intricate and each may want to be addressed in a way that is not the way you would want to be addressed. I’m very good at organization.”
Leonard spent 18 years working her way through college while completing four degrees – an associate in drafting and design, a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering technology, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and supervision from Purdue University and five classes shy of a master’s degree in engineering management.
Monday night classes prevented her from attending council meetings.
Leonard, accompanied by her husband, Bill, sees council service as a way to “repay” the financial aid invested in her education.
Integrity is the most important criteria, to follow through so promises and plans are fulfilled.
It’s permissible to agree to disagree “because sometimes there are bigger battles out there to fight that need more attention,” she said.
“What I see are a lot of people unemployed because of National Copper and ICG going out,” Leonard said. “I feel badly for these people. I think as a community we could do more outreach. I find that the area does not seem to have a lot of computers inside the homes. I really think an all-out effort should be made to make people aware of federal aid out there for families specifically to go to school and get training – not just state unemployment compensation. I’m not sure Michigan Works! is actually teaching them how to get jobs. They provide a database, but if people aren’t computer literate because they’ve been behind a machine for 25 years they don’t know how to punch the buttons on a computer and make things happen. That might be something we could work on.”
“Your comment on computer outreach really hits home with me,” said Burling, a dentist who went to Michigan Works! to hire someone for his front desk. “I got a whole stack of individuals, but probably 90 percent had no computer skills. Maybe we could set up a program to teach people how to get out there and provide some computers to be able to do that. That’s an excellent suggestion.”