It’s time for a change in Niles at-Large seats

Niles residents have an opportunity to see several fresh new faces in their council at-Large representation, and we believe they should take it.

Four Democrats are seeking the nomination to fill three seats.

Jimmy Julian, 28, was appointed last month to fill the seat vacated when former Councilman at-Large Ryan McNaughton resigned. Also running now for at-Large seats are current 4th Ward Councilman Albert Cantola Jr., 60; political newcomer and downtown Niles businessman Richard Hale, 66; and longtime incumbent Councilman Michael Lastic, 77, a retired Niles City Schools principal.

All four candidates would like to see incoming federal stimulus money be allocated in large part to improving city infrastructure, particularly waterlines. Each spoke about the need for a plan, including studying where most water line breaks are occurring and tackling first the oldest areas of that infrastructure.

We agree capital improvements and, particularly, infrastructure are good uses for the incoming federal funds, and we also agree that a detailed plan is necessary. No matter who is elected, they need to be willing to work with the administration on developing a logical plan of action.

On the controversial topic of the city’s attempts to annex properties from surrounding townships, all four candidates were supportive of annexation in order to grow the city. While we understand their desire to increase the geographical footprint of the city they represent, we have opposed forced annexation. That’s why we were particularly pleased with the approaches of Cantola and Hale, who felt strongly that no annexation should be forced, and that property owners living outside Niles borders should have the choice of continuing to purchase city utilities at a higher rate or annexing into the city in exchange for reduced utility rates.

Cantola, particularly, focused on the need for an annexation plan outlining things like emergency response to specific streets that may become chopped up due to annexations.

“If there is no plan, we are going to set ourselves up to fail,” Cantola said.

Further, he noted that forcing annexations will trigger hard feelings and a lack of cooperation between Niles and its neighbors in the future. We agree with that attitude.

Julian and Lastic shared stronger opinions supporting annexation, with both saying township residents attempting to purchase Niles utilities should be annexed into the city.

Hale, a Niles business owner, said he would work to make city government more business friendly and listed economic development of the city’s downtown as among his top goals.

We, too, believe the addition of a business owner’s perspective to city government would be beneficial.

On a previous run for office, Julian had said he opposed outsourcing city positions like those in the city’s income tax office and city health department. We had disagreed with that point. During our recent interview with Julian, we were glad to hear that Julian now realizes the cost saving has made the decision logical, and he no longer supports bringing those services in-house.

It takes a big person to acknowledge that he’s changed his mind and be able to defend his actions.

We recognize that Councilman Lastic has been an excellent public servant for many years — he has consecutively served as either a ward or at-Large councilman since 1999. Now, however, we think it is time to go in a different direction.

We endorse Julian, Cantola and Hale for the Democratic nominations. We believe fresh ideas described by these three would move council and the city in the right direction.

There are no Republicans running for the positions, and unless an independent candidate files petitions by Monday’s deadline, the three winners of the Democratic primary will have a clear path through the November general election.



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