The August 3 primary is fast approaching. Get to know the candidates running for local office in your community with 101.9 FM WDET’s Candidate Guides. Surveys were distributed to candidates to complete and you can see the responses for candidates for Pontiac City Council below.
Related Race: Pontiac Mayor
Jump to a candidate:
Karen Platen Jorgensen
Julia M. Ruffin
Megan E. Shramski
Kathalee W. James
Candidate did not respond to survey request.
Candidate did not respond to survey request.
Current job: Community Organizer (Oakland Forward)
Education: High School Diploma
About Sean Preston: I am a husband and a father to 3 kids. I own a small business called Yaktown Don’t Back Down. It’s an apparel line that’s committed to showing Pontiac’s resilience through our clothing. I also work as a community organizer for Oakland Forward. Our goal is to expand, strengthen and empower communities with a focus on people of color in Oakland County. I’m a Habitat For Humanity of Oakland County Board Member. I also serve on Accent Pontiac’s board as well.
Why are you running for Pontiac City Council? I’m running for City Council because I want to be Pontiac’s voice at the table. 10 years ago I was invited to rap at a block party for TPN. TPN stands for Transform Pontiac Now. From that day forward my service to Pontiac would begin. I’ve participated in almost every park cleanup, stop the violence march, town hall and food giveaway in the past 10 years. I have been in Pontiac my whole life. I live, eat, sleep and breathe Pontiac. I’ve bought a home here. My wife and I are raising our kids here. I started a business here. I work as a community organizer here. I can empathize with the issues and needs of our community. Having this knowledge will allow me as an elected official to help move Pontiac forward.
“I’ve participated in almost every park cleanup, stop the violence march, town hall and food giveaway in the past 10 years. I have been in Pontiac my whole life. I live, eat, sleep and breathe Pontiac.” — Sean Preston
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? The most important issue in my opinion that Pontiac is facing is poverty. 30% of our residents live in poverty. We live in one of the richest counties in America but we are the poorest city.
How would you address that issue? I would address this issue by investing in People.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? One thing I have disagreed with the current mayoral administration is not having a solid plan for Youth and Recreation.
Candidate did not respond to survey request.
Current job: Community United Way
Education: Dillard University
About Melanie Rutherford: Melanie Rutherford is a proud Pontiac native dedicated to real change in her hometown. Growing up, she lived on every side of town. She remembers attending schools in the city, playing in the parks, and going to the community centers in the summertime. This is the experience she wanted for her daughter, Moriah, to have. Melanie’s recent appointment as Commissioner for the Pontiac Housing Commission has positioned her to engage with the community and address critical housing concerns around the city. Being elected to the Pontiac Public Library board in 2017 afforded her the opportunity to proudly serve in many roles including Secretary on the Board. Over the past four years, Melanie has consistently voted to bring community outreach programs, healthier vending machines, and sustainable funding for summer reading to the library. Melanie’s experience working for the Michigan Democratic Party in 2018, provided her with insight surrounding political elections as well as government infrastructure. All of her experiences have prepared her to serve on the Pontiac City Council for District 1.
Why are you running for Pontiac City Council? I am running for the Pontiac City Council because I believe the citizens of Pontiac need representation who understands their needs. The people of Pontiac deserve someone who will demand they be provided with services improving their quality of life such as improved housing conditions, youth services and senior services. It is time we bring the people of Pontiac and the Council together to work as one.
“I am running for the Pontiac City Council because I believe the citizens of Pontiac need representation who understands their needs. The people of Pontiac deserve someone who will demand they be provided with services improving their quality of life such as improved housing conditions, youth services and senior services.” — Melanie Rutherford
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? The most important issue facing Pontiac right now is public safety. The city of Pontiac needs an infrastructure that will make families, especially seniors and small children, feel safe in their community.
How would you address that issue? Upon getting elected to City Council, I would spearhead conversations with the mayor about our current police protection, the possibility of better lighting and video surveillance in high crime areas, and organizing a gun giveback to get these illegal handguns out of the hands of children.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? Mayor Waterman has yet to open a community center for our youth. I disagree with this delay in action because it has been talked about for months and nothing has happened. Our children are now out of school with no safe place to go. I remember having a community center and I believe the youth of today deserve to have one as well.
Current job: Small Business Owner (Liberty Bar) & CEO (Detroit Hiring LLC)
Education: Graduate Degree
About Brett Nicholson: Brett is a Pontiac small business owner and 8-year resident of District 2 in Pontiac. Professionally, Brett has held executive HR leadership roles with Flagstar Bank, The Community House & The Jewish Federation. Currently, Brett owns and operates a human resource consulting firm, helping organizations realize their potential through establishing strong policy and human capital management strategies, a skill that would be incredibly valuable in a largely unstaffed city hall. Most recently, Brett purchased and revitalized a Downtown Pontiac landmark that was slated to be closed; The Liberty Bar (Oakland County’s longest operating bar & restaurant). Brett confidently navigated the challenges of the global pandemic, by developing philanthropic opportunities for his patrons to purchase meals at the restaurant for first responders and displaced homeless residents of the city. Personally, you can find Brett enjoying our local eateries, volunteering on campaigns of democratic change-makers he believes in such as Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, County Treasurer Andy Meisner and many others, singing karaoke at The Liberty Bar, at our trails and parks on his bike or walking his dog Joni around our neighborhoods. Brett has the education, experience, creativity, and demeanor that can make real, progressive change in District 2 and Pontiac.
Why are you running for Pontiac City Council? In past election cycles I have sat back and supported others that I felt had strong ideas and ethics, but they didn’t do the work to win the election. I want to be the council person that this district deserves. We need a representative on the council that will propose resolutions rather than pick fights. We need an advocate on the council that will spend time at city hall getting to know the employees needs so we can best equip them to do our work. It’s time we stop fighting, roll up our sleeves and do that work.
“We need a representative on the council that will propose resolutions rather than pick fights… It’s time we stop fighting, roll up our sleeves and do that work.” — Brett Nicholson
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? The most important issue that faces our city today is a shortage of funds. Cuts to revenue sharing and a shrinking population mean less dollars to support our residents’ needs.
How would you address that issue? The answer to funding shortages is simple:
Economic Development: Attract more and better-paying jobs to Pontiac that are filled by Pontiac residents. For too long, Pontiac has attracted employers with the narrative that we will grant abatements and find them cheap property. This undercuts the value of our city and sends a message that we don’t have pride in Pontiac. What employers need more than anything now are skilled employees. Pontiac can be the first city to turn economic development on its head by inventorying our residents’ abilities and skills using a city-operated applicant tracking system. We can partner with local vocational programs to work with residents to input their information and use the data to market our workforce to potential employers and to design more relevant workforce development programing. We will know where we are lacking and what employers are looking for.
Increase & Protect Property Values: Economic hardships and emergency financial management saddled our neighborhoods with blight and uncaring venture capitalist owned properties that cannot be addressed effectively due to outdated and minimally constructed city codes. This is the fault of a general lack of action on the part of our city council and mayor’s office. Pontiac needs clearly defined and legally defensible municipal/zoning codes with more officers that can enforce and support residents in adhering to codes that fortify both our resident’s safety but also their property values. Higher values = increase revenue to the city that will continue to feed our ability to provide more and better services to our residents.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? Frankly, the City Council and Mayor’s office rarely agree on anything. When they do, the fight has been so painstaking that the decisions are a dollar short and more than a day late. It’s the issues that they are not addressing that are most pressing to me. We need a long-term plan for the maintenance of city streets and sewers. We need a long-term plan for our deteriorating senior centers and we need an agreement for ongoing youth programming that is accessible and reasonable for all our city’s children. The forementioned items are all so tenuous that a decision of any consequence cannot be reached with by current leadership.
Current job: District 2 Pontiac City Councilwoman
Education: Pontiac Central High School, Oakland Community College & Oakland University (Medical Technology Curriculum)
“I would like to continue the progress I have made in the district, and implement plans that are beneficial to the residents, and our neighborhoods.” — Megan Shramski
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? I am hard-pressed to choose only one. Blight, public safety, infrastructure improvements, and revitalization are all issues that require close attention.
How would you address that issue? I do feel that in order to address these issues there is one action that will aid in all of these issues, and that is growing the tax base. The city needs more homeownership, and business development, and encouragement of the same. Without a growing tax base many of the city’s woes cannot be adequately addressed. New developments should be beneficial to our existing residents, in terms of jobs, services, and much-needed tax revenue.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? I am presently a member of the City Council, so my viewpoint will differ from non-incumbents. I feel my colleagues, and I have made the best decisions we could, for the most part, with the information we have been presented by the administration. A lack of communication, and exchange of information exists between the present Mayor and Council. I do my best to reach out to Department Heads, and pursue my own research of issues before us. I am ever hopeful of an improvement in communication, and collaboration between future administrations and Councilmembers.
Candidate did not respond to survey request.
Current job: Director of Mission Advancement at St. John Lutheran Church, Farmington Hills; teacher through a homeschooling program; co-owner Plain and Fancy Food; board secretary of Growing Pontiac (volunteer)
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the College for Creative Studies
About Ashleigh Altemann: I have enthusiasm for community and civic engagement and believe that government should be working to make people’s lives better. I’ve never been one to sit around and wait for things to happen. I’m ready to start getting things done.
I can dream big, but I know how to balance big dreams with practical living. So often when we face a dream, like bike trails in our community, the response is “no way” or “not gonna happen.” I like to respond with “how do we get there?” Not everything comes at once, but we can plot a course. We can work in a direction.
I am skilled at approaching problems from new angles. Planning, designing, and building systems has always been a strength of mine. I am able to assess resources, ask questions, and find creative ways to get things done, often doing a lot with just a little. Whether the task at hand is improving workflow for entrepreneurial residents looking to launch their business or addressing social issues I am ready to use my skills in a bigger way to help the community.
“I am able to assess resources, ask questions, and find creative ways to get things done, often doing a lot with just a little.” — Ashleigh Altemann
Why are you running for Pontiac City Council? I’ve answered this a few different times with the same general reasons. They all come down to working to make people’s lives better. I’ve mentioned how starting and running a business is going to be hard for so many reasons, and that working with the city should not be one of them. This idea, that the city shouldn’t be making people’s lives harder, extends beyond just people’s business endeavors.
Consider the state of our roads. The other day I was driving to the produce store and I saw a van stopped in the street. Massive potholes on Liberty had disabled their vehicle. This situation is not unique. Right outside my house, a series of potholes chronically appear. We joke about how they at least serve to slow down traffic. Over the years I have picked up various pieces from the vehicles the potholes have been damaged.
A little flap of plastic isn’t likely to upend someone’s life, but a broken axle can.
In my case, it was water on Orchard Lake Rd. near Beaudette Park. A rainy Saturday in October, 2017, I was heading to work. I don’t believe the rainfall was in any way significant, and yet water had formed two rather sizeable pools on either side of the road. So much so that they were connected by a small band of water, maybe a foot wide and an inch at its deepest. I moved to the left lane, slowed down, and drove through the middle. The car behind me plowed through the pool of water at the same time an oncoming car plowed through the other pool. My car was flooded and a few miles down the road my radio stopped, then my windshield wipers. I prayed I would make it another mile to the gas station with a service station, but I got stopped at a light and couldn’t start back up.
The fallout from that event was life-changing.
Conditions of infrastructure in our city often range from inconvenient to downright dangerous. As I write this, on a Monday, my road is blocked by a massive chunk of a tree in my neighbor’s easement that came down on Friday. The tree is also blocking a fire hydrant. Somehow, it was not marked to come down last summer. Of course, the rest of them they did mark on our street, including the one in my easement, were never taken down. So we wait and hope that should our tree shed another chunk (as it has in the past. Silver maples are prone to this shedding in this manner), that it doesn’t fall on our house or car.
Pontiac is a great place and I love that I live here, but I know a lot of us want to see some improvements. I want fewer people to have these sorts of stories. I want to help make our streets safer so fewer people get hit by cars. I want to improve our parks with facilities that allow folks to spend more time enjoying our natural spaces. I want to address unsafe conditions and other problems with code enforcements. I want opportunities for enrichment for young and old alike.
We need to work out ways to allow for development that builds up our city rather than burdens it. I want to see more of our renters turn into homeowners. I want expanded options for public transportation and better accommodations at our bus stops.
We need more opportunities for stable jobs at living wages. We need more opportunities to get together as a community.
We deserve better and we can do better.
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? Sadly, I feel like the current state of affairs in our local government is holding us back. Disagreements are par for the course with any group of people, but often it seems that our civic institutions are less than civil. We need less fighting and more cooperation, collaboration, and better communication. Things just aren’t getting done.
Knocking on people’s doors I heard versions of this and dissatisfaction with the results of this broken system over and over. Another message I heard repeated was from people who didn’t care to even vote, they had been so put off by the way government tends to function. Our voter turnout rate is incredibly low, often the lowest in the county. Dysfunction in City Hall doesn’t help this in any way. However, PSA time, our local elections are often so close that if even a handful of those folks turned out, we could see entirely different results.
How would you address that issue? I propose that we get new leadership. I don’t know how to craft any rules that would mandate cooperation. I think it is on us as citizens to elect candidates who have shown they are able to work and collaborate with others. Most importantly, it is on us as citizens to go out and vote. Again, voter turnout in our city, including District 4, is chronically low.
I do think some amount of training for city officials wouldn’t hurt either. I know there are some low-cost and even free programs offered through MSU Extension. Personally, I took the Master Citizen Planner course in 2017 to learn more about city planning. It was incredibly helpful to understand basic things, like the sorts of things that can and cannot be addressed through ordinances, but also things like how to plan streets to slow down traffic and make areas more walkable.
There are plenty of resources available and there’s always more to learn.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? I am sympathetic that being under emergency management can have an impact on the functioning of our city government. I was quite hopeful that as we emerged from state control, we might embrace our self-determination. Instead, it feels like we spend a lot of time just spinning our wheels.
Things can be difficult. Decisions that will impact the lives of the people in this city should be considered carefully. We need careful consideration, and then we need action. I know a lot of us are not too impressed with the actions we’re seeing and I have my doubts about the consideration being paid.
Earlier this year I read something in the newspaper that I have not been able to get over. In an article about the Phoenix Center settlement and the lawsuit filed by Randy Carter, the paper reported that he said he didn’t think it through. That is, he didn’t put a lot of thought into it before choosing to sue the city. I am stuck on what a remarkable “oops” that is. I accept that people make mistakes. I have certainly made my own and I will certainly make more, but that is not the kind of mistake we should accept from our city officials. I think it speaks volumes about the leadership we currently have.
Candidate did not respond to survey request. Visit website.
Current job: Retired Senior Quality Engineer, currently serving as Founder and President of Friends of the Pontiac Parks Association, a community-based organization.
Education: Graduate of Oakland University, Rochester Michigan
About Kathalee James: I am Kathalee James, a graduate of Oakland University. I have a passion for Pontiac and a long commitment to social justice and racial equity that goes back to her involvement as a young adult activist.
I was employed by General Motors for 31 years as a production supervisor and Senior Quality engineer. I am a former secretary of the Pontiac Historic District Commission. I have served as Pastoral Assistant to Dr. Matthew Moses Scott of Eastside Church of God for 20 years during which time she has met and worked with many Pontiac families. I am the Founder and President of Friends of the Pontiac Parks Association where I continue to advocate for cleaner, safer, and better-maintained parks for Pontiac residents to enjoy. I want to bring this same energy and commitment to the Pontiac City Council.
Why are you running for Pontiac City Council? I am running for the Pontiac City Council, not because I have a sudden interest in politics, but because I believe with all my heart that it is time for a change in the way we allow our city to be governed. I am running because I believe we need new leadership in the City of Pontiac, committed to the principles of working together! I am running because I believe it is time for us to move forward. We need a council representative who will work collaboratively with the administration to communicate the needs of our district and to bring the resources of the city to our residential neighborhoods and business districts. I am ready to encourage, inform and inspire a new generation of neighborhood leaders in District 4.
“We need a council representative who will work collaboratively with the administration to communicate the needs of our district and to bring the resources of the city to our residential neighborhoods and business districts.” — Kathalee James
What is the most important issue facing Pontiac? The biggest issue facing Pontiac is the need to bring our city government together and to earn the respect of our residents again. Our challenge is to come together and work as one body of government: the mayoral office and city council together. I think Pontiac residents are tired of two separate camps of governance. I believe it has held our community back. As we come out of this unprecedented pandemic, we must work together to help our city and its people recover and move forward. We must meet the challenge of the lack of trust, and poor perception of our residents towards their city government by exceeding all expectations of service. We can accomplish this by electing individuals with a strong commitment to work together.
How would you address that issue? We can accomplish this by electing individuals with a strong commitment to work together. Require off-site basic training seminars for city council and mayor to review city charter, master plans, budgets, and city ordinances. This should put everyone on the same page and improve effective communications.
What actions/decisions by the current mayoral administration or city council have you disagreed with? I disagreed with their division and lack of cooperation to solve problems collectively.