F2H Votes: Theresa Rich, 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, write-in candidate.) 

Theresa Rich
Theresa Rich (Contributed)

Theresa Rich, 59, is an attorney and part-time professor, who has lived in Farmington Hills for 27 years.

CIVIC INVOLVEMENT

  • FH City Council: 2015 – present
  • Oakland Schools Board of Education Trustee: 2010 – present
  • SEMCOG: 2013 – present. Participate in legislative, economic development, future skills, parks & recreation task forces; current Chair of the Education Bloc; current Executive Committee member
  • FH Domestic Violence High Risk Task Force: 2019 – present
  • Michigan Municipal League: VP Michigan Women in Municipal Government: 2018 – present
  • National League of Cities: Economic Development Committee
  • FH Boards & Commissions: Committee to Increase Voter Participation; Arts; Children, Youth & Families
  • Farmington Hills/Farmington Foundation for Children, Youth & Families (10 years)
  • Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind & Visually Impaired (10 years)

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

Several former mayors had a hand in nurturing my political involvement. Mayor Nancy Bates taught me a lot when I was her campaign treasurer. The now departed Mayor/ State Rep Jan Dolan and Mayor Joanne Smith spent a lot of time in my ear about running. And a few years ago, Mayor Jerry Ellis challenged me when I was supporting a Council candidate, asking “when are you going to finally run for office yourself?” I knew I had a heart for this community. But they must have seen something that took me a little longer to see: that I have the courage to use my voice for what I think is right. I believe I’ve done that during this first term on Council and hope our voters will write me in for re-election.

What unique strengths will you bring to the table?

I ask hard questions and challenge why we do the things we do – even when that means I’m not popular with the majority of Council. I make sure the ordinances we pass will serve us in the future, not just today. For instance, there have been several times in the past couple years where an ordinance was brought to us and I asked “what is the penalty for this”, to then be told it is a misdemeanor, just like in other, similar ordinances. Then I ask why feeding deer or riding a bike in the skate park should be crimes. This leads to responses about how our police officers wouldn’t really charge people with that crime and our judges really wouldn’t allow that to go forward, they just need the tools if they’re needed. But if that’s the case, why start with treating actions as crimes as the default position? This City deserves Council members who will challenge how and why we do things, not just head nod over how things have always been done.

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

Transparency. In my four years on Council, there has been an astonishing lack of transparency to our residents as well as the rest of Council. Take Board and Commission appointments, for example. In most cities, openings are publicized and shown on the city website. People can even apply over the website. In Farmington Hills, Council members do not necessarily know what positions are open. Our website is silent, save for the occasional press release. Council is presented with the name of the Mayor’s nominee on Friday for a Monday vote, but has no idea who else may have applied. Our Boards and Commissions should reflect the diverse population of this community. At this time, they clearly do not.

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 am excited about the possibilities for the new community center, including the ability to use those grounds to serve more of the community with outdoor recreation opportunities. My concern is while we have a pretty solid plan for the first two floors of the building, use of the third floor is still a TBD. As construction begins, Council should serve first as keepers of the public purse in making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. And as the year-plus of construction goes on, we need to keep our residents informed of progress.

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?

Mayors of our past taught me that the closer you are to the pothole, the closer you need to be to the people. A reality is that coming to a Council meeting to speak can be very intimidating. Council sits up high at the table, literally looking below at someone at the podium. To get closer to our residents, I held 17 coffee hours at the library. I meet hundreds of our residents at their doors every year. I also hear resident concerns over social media. More informal settings allow people to bring in their concerns without feeling intimidated. Conversations like these led to my championing the anti-vaping ordinance to protect our children, addressing mistimed traffic lights, tackling permit logjams, and getting sidewalks cleared and crosswalk holes filled.

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?

Before being elected to Council, I was a member of the Arts Commission and am a strong proponent of public art. I’ve personally supported two of our former artists-in-residence and I have art purchased from Edee Joppich and Monte Nagler on the walls of my Farmington Hills law office.

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

The problem that needs to be fixed is making sure our residents have and will have the connectivity they want. Otherwise, people could elect to live elsewhere. My concern is we’re rushing into saying municipal broadband is the correct answer. Work has been done to justify that as a solution. I’m not convinced that it is the right solution for us. More alternatives should be explored before making the major investment that this would require.