F2H Votes: Danette Duron-Willner, Farmington Hills City Council

Our F2H Votes series brings you candidate interviews and information about the 2019 local elections in Farmington and Farmington Hills. Follow local election news on social media with the #F2HVotes19 hashtag.

Farmington Hills city council candidates include: Jackie Boleware, T. R. Carr, Danette Duron-Willner , Kenneth D. Massey , Mary Newlin, and Theresa Rich (incumbent). 

Danette Duron-Willner
Danette Duron-Willner (Contributed)

Danette Duron-Willner, 49, is an attorney and has lived in Farmington Hills for 11 1/2 years.

CIVIC INVOLVEMENT

My dedication to public service and civic involvement began with my time as a Community Development Director working in public housing. I continued my public service as an investigator for the State of Michigan, Department of Civil Rights as well as a past regional board member for the Anti-Defamation League.

I have also served as a leader and/or volunteer in Scouts and PTA and a volunteer mentor to high school students in Pontiac, assisting them with creating a plan for future success in school and planning for college.

Why did you decide to run for a seat on council?

I am running for City Council to increase transparency and inclusion in appointments to city boards and commissions; enhance fiscal stability and build a long-term vision for Farmington Hills; and support economic development while growing workforce development. I firmly believe in empowering our libraries, parks, community and arts programs to fulfill their core values without undue interference by local government.

What unique strengths will you bring to the table?

I bring a powerful combination of skills and experience to the table. I have developed expertise in resolving and mediating complex issues as in-house counsel at the Fortune 500 company where I have worked for 18 years. My previous work experience as a community development director supporting public housing residents in the administration of HUD programs allowed me to value the needs of housing residents and help them fulfill the vision they had for their community. During that time, as well as my post-law school work within state government, I gained an in-depth knowledge of government guidelines and funding requirements. All this will allow me to be a strong voice for the community as a Farmington Hills City Council member.

What one issue do you plan to address first if you win a seat in November?

The issue I will address first as an elected City Council member is working collaboratively with other City Council members to create a vision 2025 plan for the city. This will include a planning process that is transparent and accessible to all community members, seeking insight to ensure the most inclusive and future forward community opinions are taken into consideration. This plan will include a fiscally responsible approach to funding current budgeted priorities, while identifying additional programs or infrastructure projects that benefit the entire community. Our vision 2025 plan needs to build a strategy to maintain a quality community for current residents while also building a strategy to attract new residents. Further, as part of a vision 2025 plan, there needs to be discussion about current and future projects that enhance economic development as well as consideration of investments into workforce development.

The city has taken on a significant project in the renovation of Harrison High School as a community center. Do you have any concerns about the project? What role do you see council members playing as construction begins?

I participated in the visioning sessions held in January 2019 that aggregated public input as to what the facility should offer once the city took possession of the property. There are community members that still struggle with the reasons and impact the school closure represents for Farmington Hills. While the January 2019 visioning sessions looked to the future, for many residents the closure of the building as a High School carries significance. City Council members play a role in continuing to move the development of the Harrison facility forward, but must do so with ongoing communication to the residents of the city. Seeking ongoing community input, beyond the visioning sessions held in January 2019, is critical to maintaining transparency around the project. Further, the transition from high school to community center should be part of a 2025 vision planning for the city in total.

Farmington Hills officials often hear from concerned residents when major projects (like the new office building at 12 Mile & Drake Roads) affect surrounding neighborhoods. How will you respond to those concerns and ensure that residents feel heard and represented in the process?

First and foremost, council members should acknowledge community input and concerns when they are offered. Far too often, members of the public share concerns and input without a sense their opinions are heard, understood or acknowledged by members of council. This creates a process that discourages public input rather than encourages it.

Timely communication is key. Ongoing progress of projects that impact surrounding neighborhoods should be communicated ahead of time to gather input from residents and then provide continued communication to residents impacted by the changes. Additional timely and transparent communications to concerned residents should also be provided by the City’s Planning Commission, relevant to projects affecting surrounding neighborhoods.

What role you believe the arts play in building a stronger and more resilient community, and how will you support the arts as a council member?

Supporting and empowering our community programs focused on the arts, as well as programming from our libraries and parks, all are critical to supporting a healthy and resilient community, as well as sustaining the viability of our community. The quality programs Farmington Hills offers in the arts, our libraries and parks attract residents and non-residents alike. They enrich the lives of those that participate and build on the reputation Farmington Hills has as a premier community in Oakland County. Personally, I chose to move to this community in large part because of these programs and the enrichment opportunities they offer.

Both cities are looking at whether it makes sense to create a municipal broadband system. What’s your take on this idea?

Currently, there is a local task force which has offered preliminary recommendations and findings relative to municipal broadband. Members of the City Council should take the results offered by the broadband task force and build out next steps, to include evaluating potential pitfalls impacting city taxpayers. This evaluation should be weighed with the reality that municipal broadband has become a necessary consideration as cities begin to explore ways to expand broadband to the benefit of all community members, without relying solely on private telecom. The current state and federal laws relative to providing municipal broadband solutions must also be weighed in this evaluation. A blend of private and municipal broadband options should also be explored to provide residents with various broadband options.

Network enhancements provided on a municipal level should also be built with community input. The investment in municipal broadband should benefit current and future residents, be flexible to keep up with technological advancements and pricing should be fiscally responsible. If successfully balanced and budgeted, municipal broadband could provide a value to all current residents and add to the City’s appeal in attracting new residents and businesses.