Meet the Mayor: Kurt Metzger of Pleasant Ridge (video)

Meet the Mayor: Kurt Metzger of Pleasant Ridge (video)

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 29, 2013)

With less than a month on the job, Pleasant Ridge Mayor Kurt Metzger has one main goal on his mind – how to get DENGATE _Fern115_Adpeople more involved in a more transparent government.  The 66-year-old data specialist is part of a changing of the guard in the 2,544-person South Oakland County suburb.  He was elected Nov. 5 along with Commissioners Bret Scott and Jay Foreman, and the trio joins Commissioners Ann Perry and Jason Krzysiak who were elected two years ago.

“It all moves to the one thing we campaigned for, the one thing that Jason and Ann talked about is really transparency, and really pushing the idea of community engagement and saying we want to make decisions with the community,” Metzger said.  “We’ll never get consensus, but really we’ve got a bright community.  We’ve got a lot of people who are really engaged.  We want them to have a say.”

Data Driven and Transparency Focused

Metzger has lived in Pleasant Ridge for 26 years and has worked in the Detroit area for over 35 years.  He came from Cincinnati to work for the Census Bureau through the 1980 census.  In 1990 he joined the Wayne State Street-Eatzz-AdUniversity Center for Urban Studies, running their Michigan Metropolitan Information Center.  In 2005 he became the Research Director for United Way Detroit.  And in 2008 he worked with the Skillman and Kresge Foundations to create Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit designed to gather and use information to help drive good decision-making.

“I’ve often said that utilizing data is my way of life when I marched in the 60s and 70s, this is my advocacy. This is the way I’m marching with data and helping people in neighborhoods advocate for themselves using information to kind of challenge the status quo,” he said.

It was the spirit of information-gathering and challenging the status quo that prompted him to get involved in local politics.

“Two years ago there was a big ruckus around a fire contract,” Metzger said.  “We outsource fire and EMS to Ferndale and the City Commission had discovered or stated they felt they were being overcharged by Ferndale, that that’d been going on for a while and so they were trying to negotiate a reduction in fees.  They felt they weren’t getting the proper attention and they went ahead and proposed a public safety authority with Berkley.  So just to not go into the gory details, that caused a lot of upset and at a public meeting, the public was very sidebar01sponsoradamant that they wanted to stay with Ferndale… And at that meeting the commission voted five to nothing to go with Berkley and sever the contract with Ferndale.

“And that really got the community engaged and very much concerned.  And out of that two residents came forth, Ann Perry and Jason Krzysiak, came forth and ran for City Commission.  There were two incumbent Commissioners running.  They challenged them.  I got, my wife and I and a number of others, got very much engaged in this whole [thing]. …We felt that the Commission hadn’t been transparent, hadn’t really followed what the community wanted…

“When it came to this election we kind of all came together again and started talking about how do we approach this election. Who can we put up for the two Commission seats? And who could we put up for Mayor?

“For whatever reason they kept saying ‘Kurt you should be running for Mayor.  And I kept saying ‘No, let’s find somebody else. I was starting to ratchet down my day job and I really felt that I owed it.  They, Jason and Ann, have done so much for the community and put up with the slings and arrows of a lot of people in the DDA holiday ice 2013 ascommunity and I felt that if they both felt strongly that I should run, the least I could do was do it.”

The First Changes

Metzger and the new Commissioners have come on at a time of change for the city.  Mayor Ralph Castelli decided not to run this year, leaving the post after a 20 year legacy.  City Manager Sherry Ball is also retiring.  (For an interview with Ball, check out http://oaklandcounty115.com/2013/07/25/retiring-pleasant-ridge-city-manager-sherry-ball-shares-memories-video/)

At the Nov. 12 City Commission meeting, Metzger, Scott and Foreman were sworn in and quickly went to work approving the search for an Interim City Manager.  Metzger said that an interim would likely start in January and be with the city for 3-6 months while a long term City Manager is sought out.  The Michigan Municipal League is assisting in this process.

“I’m not looking for the long term, but just getting somebody with some expertise, somebody from the outside, to kind of take a look at how things are going.  I personally feel that we can learn a lot from the outside.  We need to look at best practices,” Metzger said.  “I think there’s some concern that somebody would come in and rough shot over the city and make changes and that doesn’t happen. The Commission would oversee that.”Toms Custom Painting Ad

Interim City Managers are generally experienced former City Managers who have retired.  In terms of the full-time City Manager, Metzger is hopeful for some fresh energy.  “I would like to see a younger, energetic, relatively new, maybe somebody that’s been an assistant City Manager somewhere, that really understands new planning, that understands code enforcement and all those things and zoning, but really understands principles of planning and is really interested in the whole transportation, the whole Woodward corridor effort.  So somebody with some real vision and some unique skills,” he said.

Bring on the Budget

The City Commission sets the budget for the city, and that is also a priority for the new elected officials.  Voters passed an infrastructure bond extension, but they did not pass a Headlee Override.  Metzger said that Pleasant Ridge has never had an over-ride before, but that it was being proposed because the city had fallen from collecting 20 mils to 11 mils due to declining property values.  “We’re going to be thinking about how do we reintroduce it.  If we do, it’s going to come a lot earlier in the process and get a citizen’s committee like Ferndale has done and Huntington Woods,” he said.

The city is also in Jim Shaffer ad EDITEDthe process of coming up with a Parks and Recreation Master Plan and a City Master Plan, both of which are going to require resources to implement.  Fixing up Gainsboro Park was among the key findings of a recent parks survey.

“Our survey said that people really would like to see that area developed,” Metzger said.  “First of all they’d like to see it maintained. It’s not been maintained really well, it needs a lot of care.  But in addition people talked about priorities around play structures for little kids and 5-12 year olds.  They wanted a walking path.  They want to fix up the basketball and tennis courts and some basic kinds of maintenance kinds of issues.  So there is now a plan in place for the Gainsboro Park area, there’s just no money for it.”

Despite the bumps that come along with change, Metzger feels good about his community.  “We always laugh that it takes us and hour to walk around the block, with stops to talk to people.  It’s a very friendly, very unique community,” he said.

To learn more about Pleasant Ridge, visit their website at http://www.cityofpleasantridge.org/.

NOTE:  This story has been edited from a previous version due to length.

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