Five Questions with TC Mayor Michael Estes
Last November, Traverse City residents elected a self-described change agent as its mayor. Michael Estes sat down with TCBN Publisher Luke Haase for a progress report.
BN: You ran on a platform of being a listener. Give me some examples of how you're listening.
ME: One of the first was Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). A huge contingency said they did not want to have ADUs, and it was just a minority group advocating for them. Similar with… vacation rentals; a small group of people was advocating for it for a long time. And this current (City) Commission, more than just me, said we're going to do something. Roads…the public's been saying our roads are in terrible shape. We said we had to find more money for roads, and we've done that. And then the administrative fee, basically an additional tax on residents. Citizens didn't want it, and now it's gone.
BN: You've talked about some pretty bold changes…everything from exploring a sale of TC Light & Power to big changes with the Cherry Festival, possibly merging some city services with county services, and more. Now that you've been in office a while, how do you handicap your chances of getting these changes through?
ME: The Cherry Festival has gained some structure and is moving in a positive direction. I see more stability between the City and the Cherry Festival. As for Light & Power, they're under the microscope with the City Commission. I think simply bringing up the issue of selling it keeps them on their toes. The merging of departments between county sheriffs and city police and metro and city fire departments is on hold based on the Citizens Operational & Financial Analysis Committee. So, all of those issues have a strong chance of being beneficial to the community.
BN: What do you see as the single biggest problem or challenge facing the City right now?
ME: Our single biggest issue in all honesty is the stability of the State of Michigan. No matter how well we run our affairs here, the affairs of Lansing have to be run well…I have very little influence on that.
BN: Is Mike Estes business-friendly? How so?
ME: Well, go back to my background. I have an accounting degree and a master's in business administration, and I've owned my own business. And, look at the actions we've taken: we're paving roads without raising taxes, we've eliminated the administrative fee…and there's the potential of a huge tax rebate with possible sale of Light & Power. I've met with business leaders and the Chamber to talk about open ideas, and advocated that the next big step is to address the non-DDA portion of this town. Areas outside of downtown need some revitalizing.
BN: I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about power and leadership in town. Which position holds the most power in our town? Yours? City Manager? Someone else?
ME: It's definitely not the mayor. It's a short-term office. You can force issues into discussion, but I don't think you can assume it has influence. I'd say for the whole region, the (Grand Traverse) county administrator has a great deal of influence.