Grosse Pointe News | October 19th, 2017
First contested mayoral race since 2003 By Melissa Walsh
Grosse Pointe Farms – Residents will vote for mayor in the first such battle since 2003. The race between Joe Ricci and Louie Theros is the first “people’s” election since the city revised its charter prescribing direct election of mayor by Farms residents.
Proposal A on the November 2003 ballot was the result of a petition circulated by councilwoman Therese Joseph. The principle guiding it was “to permit the voters at each city election to elect a mayor for a two year term.” In elections prior to 2003, the city charter directed, “The Council shall at its first meeting following each regular city election, elect one of its members to serve as mayor and one to serve as mayor pro tem.”
The approved proposal led to the appointment of James C. Farquhar Jr. by popular vote among residents. Farquhar continued to serve as mayor for six more terms via uncontested elections. With his seventh term expiring this November, Farquhar decided not to seek an eighth. Instead, he is on the ballot to continue serving the Farms as a city council member, a four-year term.
In this 2017 election season, the charter revision is relevant as current Farms councilmen Ricci and Theros vie for the people’s confidence in performing the duties of mayor the next two years.
Joe Ricci, 67, voted to Farms City Council by special election February 2013, said, “I have the passion, the desire and the business knowledge (to be Farms mayor).”
“I love this place,” he said. With the lake, parks and beautiful sports fields, he called Grosse Pointe “one of the greatest communities you could ever live in.” He has lived in the Pointes for the past 40 years.
Ricci grew up near Mack and Chalmers and attended Notre Dame High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering degree and a master’s degree in occupational psychology from the University of Michigan.
Early in his career, Ricci worked as a safety engineer at Chrysler’s Warren truck plant while pursuing his master’s degree. When his coursework requirements conflicted with the rigid schedule at the plant, he quit his industrial job and began selling used cars while finishing his degree requirements. He discovered that he was skilled in selling cars and enjoyed the business. In 1979, Ricci launched his first Joe Ricci dealership at Mack and Canyon. After 19 years, he sold the flagship store and opened others in the Detroit suburbs.
Today, Ricci’s sons manage dealership operations. He also has a stepdaughter who lives in Seattle.
Ricci described himself as a successful businessman with the skills necessary to lead the Farms’ city government. He said, as “Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan brought good business practices to Detroit and has had good results,” he’d like to do the same in the Farms.
“I’m talented in the things that are needed right now,” he said. “The whole idea is just to do what’s right in business and city leadership.”
During Ricci’s five years on city council, he has served on the Public Safety Committee, Public Safety Retirement Systems Commission, General Employee Retirement Systems Commission, on the Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation in an ex officio role and as alternate SEMCOG representative.
In the community, Ricci is a member of the Sunrise Chapter of the Grosse Pointe Rotary, New Canaan Society of Grosse Pointe, St. Paul’s on the Lake and the Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation. He is a past president of Windemere Home Owners Association.
Ricci has supported the Detroit Historical Society, Eastside Hockey Foundation, Grosse Pointe Bulldogs Hockey Club, Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation, Grosse Pointe Historical Society, Grosse Pointe Housing Foundation, Grosse Pointe Santa Clause Parade, Holley Ear Institute, Lakeside Baseball, the Michigan Humane Society and Grosse Pointe Animal Adoption Society. He has also coached ULS women’s ice hockey.
“I’ve been blessed with an extremely high work ethic,” he said. “And I enjoy what I do. Money has never been a motivator for me.”
With his sons operating his auto dealership holdings, Ricci promises ample time to dedicate to the Farms, stressing that with taxable value rising, the next five years are critical for fiduciary planning.
As mayor, Ricci would prioritize developing a “gateway” at Mack and Moross, calling the intersection the “front door” to the Farms. He said that he would like to see a public safety facility – a beautiful “Albert Kahn-type building” – built on the corner of Mack and Moross.
Concerned with community safety, he would like to have video surveillance equipment installed at the “five entrances and exits to our community” – namely, Mack and Moross, Mack and Kerby, Mack and Moran, Mack and Fisher and Jefferson and Fisher. He believes that public safety should have the ability to see who is entering and exiting the community.
Ricci would also like to stimulate increased mutual cooperation among the Pointes and with Detroit – with city government and blight-removal and neighborhood-revitalization organizations like Detroit’s Land Bank Authority.
He said that “we (the Grosse Pointes) don’t need a wall; we need a buffer,” meaning healthy neighborhoods in the Detroit communities near the Pointes.
Though Farms city government is independent of schools management, Ricci expressed concern over Grosse Pointe Public School finances and management planning, specifically with a projected deficit increase looming with the forecast of falling enrollment and deferred maintenance of aging facilities. He said that he would get involved “behind the scenes” to move things in the direction to benefit Farms’ students.
“All you can do is be a conduit,” he said.
Ricci also pledged a solution to the city’s overloaded storm sewers issue, including the promise to separate the inland district’s sewer infrastructure into storm and sewage systems. He said that the engineering consulting firm Hubbell, Roth and Clark is collecting data for reporting that will lead to strategic options. This could cost close to $20 million for improving the entire inland system, he said, which the city could finance with a new bond. Based on the information he has currently, he believes that a retention pond at the Country Club of Detroit would make sense.
Ricci supports a smart-meter program for metering household gas, electricity and water usage, with the caveat that residents may opt out should they prefer conventional meters in their home.
Stepping down from the War Memorial board last March, Ricci has taken a position on record as opposing a change of venue ordinance for the facility to develop a retail movie theater on site.
“I think that dog won’t hunt,” he said.
Yet he stressed the Grosse Pointes are “prime” for families. His own grandchildren reside here and enjoy a healthy, vibrant family community. With improvements being made to Kerby Field and the shopping districts, he believes “the next five years are going to be really exciting for the Pointes.”
As mayor, he said he would continue a practice he has undertaken as a city council member – visiting city hall each Monday to speak with city management personnel.
Asked what makes him the best candidate in this race, he said, “Knowing I can make a difference where the future is going.”
Louis “Louie” Theros, 53, Farms city councilman since 2001, said that he is “passionate about the Farms.”
“My record shows my dedication, my passion and my commitment to the Farms,” he said, stressing that after 16 years on council he knows how the city’s departments function and who administers its management activities “as well or better than anybody.”
Theros grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods, attending Grosse Pointe schools and graduating from Grosse Pointe North High School. He’s been married to wife Patti 21 years. The couple have two sons, the elder attending University of Michigan, Theros’ alma mater, and the younger a senior at Grosse Pointe South High School.
A trial lawyer specializing in employment/labor law and collective bargaining, Theros has held the position of vice president-legal at MGM Grand Detroit more than two years. Prior to this role, he was with Butzel Long for six years and with Dickinson Wright for 20 years before that. As member of the Detroit Bar Association, Theros served seven years on the association’s board of directors and was president from 2006 to 2007.
During his four terms on city council, Theros has chaired the Audit and Budget Committee and Ordinance Committee and served as member of the Personnel Committee and General Employee and Public Safety Employee Pension Commission. During this time, he said, the Farms has achieved the lowest millage rate of the Grosse Pointes, a balanced budget, a AAA bond rating, five tax cuts, fully funded pensions and a better equipped public safety department.
“We still have the lowest operating millage of the Pointes,” he said, explaining that – based on gap reporting from Plante Moran – at the end of 2017 the city will have $3.9 million of unrestricted fund equity.
The millage rate has been reduced five times, he added, and the rate is unchanged since 2013. An increase was put to council vote in 2013, he said, a motion he voted against.
In the community, Theros served on the boards of Grosse Pointe Hockey Association and Michigan Ice Hawks youth hockey association. He is in his final season of managing the Grosse Pointe South varsity boys ice hockey team. Theros also coached Grosse Pointe Farms-City Little League while his sons played. And he is a member of the parish council at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church.
Theros said that when he gets involved in an activity or organization, he is committed and becomes passionate about serving. He said service goes hand-in-hand with leadership. He views the role as Farms mayor as an “opportunity to continue serving the community.”
During his four terms on council, Theros worked with three city controllers and through the recession by continuing to provide services despite decreased taxable value. He said he was integral to instituting new programs “to make it a tighter ship.”
He said he led the development a five-year plan for each municipal department, an activity that gave him experience in making difficult fiduciary decisions – for example, adjusting an initial comprehensive city road-improvement plan to eliminating immediate improvements to some roads. He said in making these decisions he has prioritized services to residents over facility and aesthetic improvements.
“Everything emanates from the funding,” he said, explaining as mayor he would put to good use his years of experience in the council’s auditing and finance activities.
If elected, Theros vowed to pursue a plan to correct issues related to storm water runoff, to invest more in the Mack Avenue business district and nearby neighborhoods and to increase cooperative activities with the public safety activities of neighboring communities.
“I have long advocated for a city hall at Mack and Moross,” he said.
Theros said the land at the southeast corner of Mack and Moross was paid for in the 1990s and still not utilized to benefit city residents. He envisions a public/private partnership for the development of a city hall there, with city services on the first floor and private business above. He said that the current public-use zoning status would need to be changed and approved for mixed-use.
Theros stressed under his leadership, he would not pursue development of Mack and Moross over sewer improvements. He explained with bonds “coming off the books soon,” financing would be available without increasing the millage tax. He said HRC is in the process of collecting data leading to a strategy that could cost between $7 to 20 million. The HRC report is expected by the end of December 2017, he said.
Theros said the HRC findings will influence proposed options for the city government to discuss and approve, such as building a detention system under Kerby Field or constructing additional infrastructure and building a detention pond at Country Club of Detroit. He said bonding to finance an option would likely begin in 2018. There will be a cost benefit, he added, as the Farms already pays $2.5 million to Detroit in moving storm water runoff within the inland sewer system.
Other issues Theros has on his radar include active promotion of the Mack business district, cooperation with the Moross Greenway Project, reestablishing a Mack Avenue Business Association or a downtown development authority and engagement with Detroit developers for a Mack streetscape initiative and possible trolley system along Mack from Brys to Alter Road.
Though the Farms benefits from mutual-aid partnerships with other Grosse Pointe communities, Theros said, “We’re doing offshoot partnerships.”
He would like to expand partnership programs with the other Grosse Pointe communities and the City of Detroit. He said he has a good relationship with the mayors in the surrounding communities and would continue to develop those relationships.
Countering any concern Theros would be too busy as a full-time attorney to dedicate himself to the Farms community in a mayoral role, he promises accessibility and approachability in the community.