Joe Greene is running for mayor of Caro with hopes of bringing a “Yes we can” attitude to living and doing business in the city – an approach he says begins with elected officials, is missing, and holds the area back.
“It’s time for a change,” Greene said. “I want to change the attitude here to ‘Yes we can.’” Greene, a Caro City Council member for the last 10 years, filed the necessary paperwork Monday to run as a write-in candidate. He faces incumbent Dick Pouliot – who was elected mayor several years ago.
Greene’s filing came four days before the deadline and a whirlwind month centered on a $1.2 million project that had been in the works for downtown Caro. The project developer pulled the plug on the rum microdistillery-based project last week, citing a negative reception from elected officials.
Greene, however, said he was supportive of the project.
He cast one of two “yes” votes on Sept. 19, when the council voted against recommending the project receive the necessary liquor licenses from the state.
Greene consistently pointed out in subsequent meetings that the council didn’t need exact details several members sought this early – that all the developer needed was their recommendation for the liquor licenses and that the city could tackle issues such as zoning and wastewater management down the line.
And as The Advertiser reported Oct. 19, he accused fellow elected officials of discrimination against the business, overstepping its bounds, and colluding to effectively kill the project. He blamed council for the resignations of former Caro City Manager Jared Olson and former Caro Downtown Development Authority Chairman Michael Bauerschmidt.
Greene said he decided to run for mayor as a write-in candidate after an outpouring of support that came as more people became aware of how he took a stand.
“A lot of people were asking me and I was thinking about it, too,” Greene told The Advertiser after officially filing Monday.
Pouliot said he wasn’t surprised that Greene decided to challenge him, based on differences of opinion. Pouliot is nearing the end of his second, two-year term.
“We live in a democracy,” Pouliot said. “That’s the beauty of a democracy.
“There’s different opinions out there and that’s why we see so many different political parties and candidates running,” he said.
The biggest “differing opinions” lately have been with regard to what was to be a $1.2 million rum microdistillery called Thumb Rum & Brew and adjacent restaurant.
By voting 5-2 Sept. 19, the council decided to tell the state liquor commission that the project was too close to a church though several elected officials subsequently backtracked to say Romain wasn’t prepared for their questions and that they were “forced” to vote no.
As more people learned of the decision, a groundswell of support grew and roughly 150 people crammed into Caro City Council chambers on Oct. 3 to voice frustration toward the council and support for the project.
That was when Greene said the notion of running for mayor entered his mind.
“It was the number of people that came to that meeting and voiced their concerns – and it seemed like it fell on deaf ears,” Greene said.
Pouliot said that isn’t the case.
“Economic development is critical,” Pouliot said. “We have always embraced every project that’s ever come to this community and governing body very seriously and always gave it a hard overview.
“We’ve always had a very serious and conscientious attempt to capture every job that we possibly could,” Pouliot said. “Every opportunity doesn’t always pan out the way you envisioned it.”
Pouliot said such items “typically track through the city manager,” who has the “initial preview” of them, adding it’s usually the city manager who is responsible for making sure the city of Caro is right for potential new business owners and vice versa.
Emails later obtained by The Advertiser through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act showed Romain submitted a plan to Olson as far back as March.
For a reason that hasn’t been identified, however, Romain was invited to attend the Sept. 19 meeting under the pretense of being the meeting’s “business spotlight”– part of the meeting during which businesses and nonprofits often present themselves on an informational-only basis.
Olson told Romain via email that along “with you being the business spotlight, you could also stick around in case they have any questions on the two resolutions that you need.” Officials would later claim Romain wasn’t prepared to answer specific questions they had about issues such as wastewater management and delivery trucks for the business.
Greene said a big part of the problem was that Pouliot failed to keep the council focused on its role in the process when those questions came up.
Greene also said Pouliot shouldn’t have been involved in other aspects, such as discussing the project in-depth at a Michigan Municipal League convention in mid-September (just prior to the Sept. 19 vote) or taking measurements of how far the closest church was to the proposed location of the microdistillery. Pouliot told The Advertiser last week that he was the one who did the measurement, and that he invited Greene, and Greene declined.
“I feel he was taking on the state’s responsibilities versus ours,” Greene said. He said at the time of the 5-2 vote, the council members should have been focused on supporting a new business developer – not engaging in matters such as measuring proximity to churches, which the state would have done anyway as part of its normal process, Greene said.
“That’s all the state’s final say,” Greene said. “Our only job was to say ‘We want this business to take the next step.’ It got way off track.”
The microdistillery isn’t the only reason Green said he’s running.
Greene said economic development of Caro is a top priority, adding that there’s no reason Caro shouldn’t have new businesses opening like Vassar, which has seen six new businesses open this year.
“I think it can be successful like Vassar, but we just need to change our attitude,” Greene said.
Greene said he will continue serving on the board of The Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. He wants to help inventory vacant storefronts in downtown Caro, too, along with who owns what buildings and lease rates.
“Just some basic information in case someone comes in looking for a business,” Greene said. “We can say ‘Yeah, we have a list of contacts.’”
Greene said there’s no excuses for Caro not to be on the forefront of changing for the better when it comes to those who live, work and/or own businesses in the city.
He pointed to the village of Reese’s recent adoption of a resolution specific to golf cart use as an example. Caro doesn’t have its own resolution.
“We’re one of the biggest towns in the county,” he said. “We should be a leader in these things, not following, or not do it at all and find all kinds of reasons.”
Greene said he’s witnessed the trend of Caro City Council overcomplicating things to the point of effectively killing too many projects.
“It seems like everyone keeps coming up with excuses not to do it versus looking at the other angle of ‘We should do it’ or ‘We can do it,’” Greene said. “If something’s not working later on you can amend your ordinance.”
Pouliot said he wants Caro voters to look at the city’s achievements under his leadership.
“We’ve worked very hard for this community for a number of years,” Pouliot said. “This community is a very good community. It’s in good financial shape. We’ve done many, many projects and continue to do many, many projects to enhance this community.
“We’re proud of the achievements.”
Pouliot – who had been running unopposed – said he will now engage in “typical” campaigning. When pressed for details, he said that would encompass “probably making some calls.”
Greene’s campaign includes a strong online presence with Facebook page www.facebook.com/JoeGreeneforMayor, signage that has already begun appearing throughout town, shirts, print advertisements, and flyers.
Jodi Fetting, county clerk, Tuscola County, said voting for a write-in candidate is not a difficult process and consists of the following steps.
If a voter would like to vote for a write-in candidate, they would need to:
- Find the correct contest on the ballot. (If placed under the incorrect contest, the write-in vote will not be counted.)
- Write the name (as accurate as possible) in a blank line found under the pre-printed candidate name (if there is one). (The voter does not need to worry about party affiliation as it is a general election.)
- Connect the arrow next to the name written in.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org