Two Niles City Council seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s election

Published 8:07 pm Saturday, November 1, 2003

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7, to cast their ballots for city councilmembers in each ward, as well as for mayor.
However, two councilmembers -- first ward's Georgia Boggs and third ward's Robert Chute -- and Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin are seeking new terms without opposition.
Councilmember Dan VandenHeede, who represents the city's second ward, is also seeking another term. Second ward resident Greg O'Toole is hoping to unseat VandenHeede.
Also, Bruce Williams, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the remainder of Dan Everett's term, wants a new term of his own representing the city's fourth ward. Former councilmember Penny Brazo is hoping that doesn't happen. She's running against Williams for the available fourth-ward seat.
Dan VandenHeede
The second ward's VandenHeede, 41, was an outspoken opponent to the city's sale of property in the industrial park to Indeck Energy, which wants to build a natural gas-powered electricity generating plant there.
Indeck's plans called for constructing the plant during 2003. However, changes in the economy which negatively effected the electric power industry have delayed those plans apparently indefinitely.
VandenHeede, a 1986 graduate of Niles High School, lives at 639 N. 13th St. He and his wife, Jodie, have three children: Liz, 12, a seventh grader at Ring Lardner; Sam, 9, a fourth-grader at Eastside School; and Kate, 8, a third-grader at Eastside School.
VandenHeede is the son of Niles residents, John and Lucy VandenHeede.
VandenHeede is also a graduate of Western Michigan University, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree in history. He teaches U.S. history, psychology and art at Dowagiac Union High School, where he has worked for the last eight years.
VandenHeede is the city council's liaison with the city's parks and recreation board.
VandenHeede was also an active participant in helping to make the city's skate park a reality.
As to the city's future, VandenHeede said coming tight city budgets will require much attention.
He said he became interested in running for the city council as a result of teaching civics to his students.
He's learned city government here works just as it should.
VandenHeede said he thinks he serves as a kind of devil's advocate on the city council.
Greg O'Toole
Ironically, the challenger for the second ward council seat in Niles is also an employee of Dowagiac Union Schools.
He also has a daughter who is a seventh grader at Ring Lardner.
Greg O'Toole, 47, originally of the Muskegon area, is in his second year as transportation director at Dowagiac schools.
O'Toole, who lives at 1630 Cass St., Niles, with his wife, Robin, and their daughter, Cassie, 12, is a former Michigan State Police trooper.
He retired after 23 years with the State Police in October 2001 while working at the Niles Post. He worked at the Niles Post his first seven years as a State Trooper, then transferred to St. Joseph, where he worked for 12 years. He returned to the Niles Post and remained there until he retired.
After retiring, O'Toole worked for Niles Community Schools for one year at Southside School before taking his Dowagiac job.
O'Toole also has a son, Sean, 21, and a daughter, Erin, 19, who both attend the University of Rhode Island.
O'Toole said he's pleased with the progress in the Niles community and wants to be a part of helping that positive trend continue.
Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams, 40, of 777 Bryant St., Niles, was appointed to the Niles City Council in March of this year to represent the fourth ward when Dan Everett resigned.
He is seeking a term of his own on the council.
Williams, who is a partner with his uncle, Chris, and Pat O'Toole in Williams Lumber and Hardware in Niles, is the son of Sharon Williams and the late Larry Williams and represents the fourth generation of his family to work in the business founded by his family.
He is a single father of one son, Jay, a student at Ballard Elementary School.
Williams said he was prompted to seek the unexpired term representing the fourth ward because it was an opportunity to give back to the community that raised and nurtured him.
Before being appointed to his council seat, Williams served on the city's master plan advisory committee. Through work on it, he learned about many of the city's needs and priorities, as well as "the many exciting things happening here now."
When appointed to the city council, Williams said he was eager to help with the effort to renovate downtown Niles and recruit new business and interest in the downtown area, and he's done that.
Williams also said the council and the city's administration is bracing for tight budget constraints, particularly in light of the state's present $900 million budget deficit.
Penny Brazo
Penny Brazo was appointed to represent the fourth ward on the Niles City Council on Sept. 12, 1994, when Leeann Lindenfeld resigned her seat on the council.
Brazo was elected to a term of her own on the council on Nov. 7, 1995. She did not seek a second full term.
Brazo manages the Victoria's Cottage gift shop in Berrien Springs. She is married to Gilbert Brazo, a retired Huntington Bank officer, who now is a fundraiser and marketing director for Junior Achievement.
The couple has two grown sons, Corey and Kevin -- "tall, handsome men. I'm just like Barbara Bush. My sons are the greatest in the world and you'd better not mess with them," she said.
Brazo said she is seeking a new seat on the council because she, for the first time in a long time, feels like herself again.
Brazo was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2001 and began a battle for her life. She ended treatment in January 2002 and it wasn't until this past spring that her full energy returned.
She said, with grown children, she has the time to devote to the job of city council that it requires.