Around 40 people attended the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford’s mayoral forum at the Milford Senior Center, offering an opportunity for participating chamber members to pose questions, mostly anonymously, to the three mayoral candidates, Jim Oechsler, Betty Lou Schiedenhelm and Bryan Shupe.
The three candidates vying for the title of Milford’s next mayor answered a multitude of questions concerning business and growth Wednesday night.
Around 40 people attended the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford’s mayoral forum at the Milford Senior Center, offering an opportunity for participating chamber members to pose questions, mostly anonymously, to the mayoral candidates.
Jim Oechsler, Betty Lou Schiedenhelm and Bryan Shupe, who are vying for the mayoral seat, had an opportunity to individually address most of the questions, which were posed by a few audience members and read by moderator Dan Gaffney of 105.9 Talk Radio.
Schiedenhelm pushed the point that she was not a politician, but that she would be willing to give her best effort to learning whatever she needs if elected mayor.
“It’s like a liaison between the people of the city and the council,” Schiedenhelm said in response to a question about the candidate’s definition of what it means to be mayor and how the candidates plan on improving the position. “I will be learning and I like learning and I care about Milford.”
Oechsler said he believes the mayor should focus on following Robert’s Rules of Order, a guide for parliamentary procedure that dates back to the late 1800s. But he said having a vision for where the city will go and an outlined plan, coinciding with the city’s comprehensive plan, is the best way for a mayor to continue growth in Milford.
“Milford is my home. I want to serve this town as mayor,” he said. “I want to work with the city manager and the council to make this town the best it can be.”
Shupe said he is excited about the direction Milford is taking, and expects the downtown, with the help of statewide partnerships, to continue growing as it has in the past 10 years.
“I’m excited about where we’re going. We’re headed in the right direction,” Shupe said. “I will be an active ambassador to move [Milford] forward in a positive direction.”
A few questions focused on downtown Milford and how these mayoral candidates would handle growth in that area and how they would attract not only visitors, but residents to the city.
“The city helps DMI with funding for downtown, but until will make downtown buildings presentable, it will be difficult,” Oechsler said.
Shupe said he has a strong relationship with DEDO through his experience as a small business owner, and that leaning toward stronger relationships with the governor, state legislators, DMI and CCGM is key to helping the downtown flourish.
Schiedenhelm said downtown Milford needs a park and more family-oriented opportunities to attract people to shop and play in the downtown area. She also noted a high crime rate between the two shopping centers on N.E. Front Street to be a serious deterrent to downtown traffic.
“We don’t have a park, and I don’t understand that,” she said. “You can’t build a community by leaving some of it out. I think it needs [to be] a little fresher, it needs a polish.”
Looking at alternatives for energy sources, all three candidates had different ideas of what the city could do in terms of offering lower cost electric services to its residents.
Schiedenhelm said the city would be better off purchasing more solar panels to create in house electricity supplies, but did not comment on the specifics of how that investment could be funded or maintained or how it would ultimately affect residential or commercial utility bills.
“Looking at solar is a good answer,” Schiedenhelm said. “I love that we don’t lose our electric, and I think we pay for that.”
A hot topic for all three candidates was the issue of growth in the southeast and western portions of Milford, and how future economic development could be anticipated without the proper infrastructure in place.
Oechsler pointed to both areas as places in desperate need of water and sewer improvements to anticipate future growth and sustain current residents and businesses, especially in the area of Baltimore Air Coil.
Shupe said the concern lies in making sure current residents have the services needed, while also taking growth into consideration.
“We need to make sure with growth that current citizens have what they need,” he said.
After nixing the city’s economic development director position over the summer, one anonymous question addressed how the candidates would handle that position and if it would be a priority after the election is over.
Shupe disclosed that the city has been discussing a possible position for a city planner with economic development duties.
“The exciting news is we are looking at bringing a planner on with some economic development duties and have put money in the budget for that,” he said.
Both Oechsler and Schiedenhelm agreed that hiring someone to handle Milford’s economic development would be a top priority if elected.
“That economic development position needs to be hired yesterday,” Oechsler said.
With minimal attendance at city council meetings, some anonymous attendees at Wednesday’s public forum wanted to know how the candidates plan to reach out to the community, especially to garner minority action within the city.
“We need to show them love, that they’re welcome within our community,” said Oechsler. “I’d like to see meetings held in each ward, especially the fourth ward because it was historically a minority community.”
Shupe said it’s not just minorities that need to be reached out to, but young people and residents who may not feel comfortable addressing their opinions and concerns with city officials.
“We have to go out and break bread with them,” he said. He also recommended social media and email newsletters as a way to digitally engage the community.
Schiedenhelm recommended working with interpreters to reach out to Haitian and Hispanic communities.
Milford resident Shirley Renzi, who posed multiple questions and comments to the three candidates, said the issues of the economic development position and electric rates were some hot topics for her.
“The electric rates are terrible. They’re driving people away from the city,” she said.
CCGM President Angela Dorey said she was surprised by the event, and described it as “captivating” and “impressive.”
“[The candidates] gave very good answers,” she said. “[Attendance] was not as much as we had hoped, but it is the first event. The people here will benefit from being here.”
Milford resident Ruth Ann Beideman said she believes the candidates addressed important points, especially concerning a definitive plan and path for the city and its growth.
“We do need a definite plan for the future and for economic growth,” she said. “There needs to be more meetings in the respective wards so the mayor and the council is more visible in the community.”