Archived Story

Candidates face off in forum

Published 10:12pm Wednesday, July 25, 2012

All 13 candidates for contested Niles Charter Township positions in the Aug. 7 primary attended a League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties forum Wednesday night.

Managing Editor Katie Rohman moderated the event co-sponsored by Leader Publications and Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce at Greater Niles Senior Center on Bell Road.

Unopposed clerk candidate Terry Eull, the retired Niles administrator and supervisor in the early 1990s, also attended.

Current Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt did not seek re-election.

Each candidate was allotted two minutes to introduce his or her candidacy qualifications, then dispersed to tables to chat individually with voters.

Sheriff Paul Bailey attended, as did Harry Thibault, township Parks Commission chairman. Thibault, a home care physical therapist, knows many of the candidates, but said he wanted to give everyone a “fair shot” at his vote.

He said the four-year election cycle offers a good time for a “fresh look” at issues, such as the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail effort he leads, which brings people together.

Thibault said he hopes the township steers clear of personal conflicts in the term to come.

Candidates were passionate about their love of Niles Charter Township and spoke of enhancing civic pride.



Jim Kidwell


The incumbent supervisor is a lifelong Niles resident who has owned Galaxy Roller Rink for 32 years. Married for 42 years, he is the father of two. Promising honest and open government, Kidwell said he started the code enforcement program to clean up the township, particularly removing the “eyesore” Eastgate shopping center had become. Officials should be held accountable, he said.


James Stover


A veteran of township government since 1974, Stover served as treasurer until 1996, when he relocated to Grand Rapids and continued his involvement.

His candidacy primarily offers “professional leadership,” Stover said, intending to put together a team that works together, relying on “teammates” to generate solutions, not him individually.

“We will do that,” he said of striving for a collegial atmosphere and insuring citizens are heard.



Jim Ringler


Ringler, treasurer for 16 years, is a lifelong resident who attended Brandywine High School, Southwestern Michigan College and Western Michigan University. His wife of 35 years teaches elementary school for River Valley; they have two sons. He is also a commercial real estate broker.

Ringler ran for two reasons — love of his lifelong home, where he intends to retire; and concern it survive economic downturn, then thrive with “infrastructure in the right places” to attract economic development.

He said the township is fiscally strong with safe assets and 16 years of clean audits.


John Engel


Engel moved to the community five years ago from South Bend and sees board service as a way to get involved. He brings 25 years of accounting in the non-profit sector and experience in information technology.

“I’m not a politician,” he said, but promises fresh ideas and desire.

Gary Conover


Born and raised in Niles, one of the four incumbents graduated from NHS and SMC. He works for Gulfstream Aerospace, supporting aircraft from a home office.

Conover also wants to see the township survive the prolonged economic doldrums by attracting new business to put folks to work, in turn helping existing business.


Richard Cooper


The retired businessman raised a family of six children and has been around the township since 1959. He loves Berrien County and believes citizens owe “civic rent,” which he began paying during 44 years with the fire department.

Cooper joined the board in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004 and 2008.

He learned grassroots government from the bottom up on the planning commission, drafting master plans and zoning ordinances.

He has been involved with NATS, the Niles-Buchanan-Cass Area Transportation Study, and the 11th Street Corridor project.

Cooper predicts a bright future and said the chief task is doing what’s right for the township. “It’s not about me.”


Herschel Hoese


Married 28 years with four kids and five grandchildren, Hoese’s background is in commercial construction. Since retiring, he has been affiliated with the ushers program at the University of Notre Dame for 17 years, has had a real estate license for 20 years and touts experience creating and following budgets.

Trustees’ duties are a public trust, managing with the best interests of the public at heart.


August Kuehn


The trustee for two years has been married for 11 years. “The township is fortunate to have a solid financial system,” he said, pledging to continue that stability while engaging in ongoing long-range planning, from facilities to parks and recreation, so officials are not “surprised.”


Pat Legatt


The Minnesota native has lived in the Niles area for 22 years, eight in the township. She believes in bolstering civic pride in what she says is one of the best places in Michigan to live thanks to its mix of schools and parks. She has served on the parks board for a year and a half and also works part-time in code enforcement. She was also president for six years of Bend in the River Conservation Club.

As a semi-retired paralegal, she also pointed to her experience with ordinances.

Legatt says elected officials should be held to a higher standard of conduct, and that board members need conduct and ethics policies like govern their employees.


Dick Noble


A board member since 1990, Noble still recalls what his job entailed as explained by Harry Siedelberg before his 1992 death: You work for the citizens and help them with their wants and needs. “Harry was a great leader.”

Noble stressed working for the safety of residents and their children and safety on the highways. He is always available. His goal is “happy faces from helping people with their problems.” Progress has made the township stronger than 22 years ago.


Dan Songer


The father of two volunteers at Lakeland and instructs “boot camp for new dads,” teaching them to change diapers.

“I want to do what the citizens need,” Songer said, advocating safe roads and sidewalks. “That’s about it. I’m new at this.”


Christine Vella


Born in Ohio, she came here at 12 and graduated from NHS and WMU. It was her 31st wedding anniversary to Jim. She did substitute teaching, then in finance for Lakeland, where she retired last summer. She went from supervising 18 employees to managing the $100,000 retail gift shop.

“I grew into my leadership role and am continuing to grow,” Vella said.

Motivated by “servant leadership,” she said she has no political rhetoric.

Her strength is connecting with people.


Ron Winningham


Here since 1969, he was a police officer from 1971 to 1980, when he opened a tool business. He retired from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department after five years, including installing the jail security system.

“I’ve dedicated my life to community service,” Winningham said.














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