Four candidates compete for single at-large seat on Hancock City Council
Candidates seeking the at-large seat on Hancock’s city council that is open this year are facing a lot of competition. Three new candidates, Margo Pizzi, Robert Stites, Jim DeClerck are each seeking to unseat John Hauessler, an appointed council member with previous experience.
Pizzi says she wants to sit on the council as a way to give back to her community.
She’s been involved with her four now-grown children’s activities and volunteered at the Guilded Rose Gift Shop inside Portage Health, president of the Daughters of Italy, was American Legion Auxiliary president for a year, and thinks the council would be another good way to serve the community, too.
“I have very conservative values,” Pizzi said.
She said she believes family and being involved in your community “either makes you or breaks you, so to speak.”
She said she has no interest in defunding the police department, and would rather work with them to find out what they need to do better.
“I do believe we need them,” Pizzi said.
Her husband was also a volunteer firefighter.
“So I know what the firemen have to go through,” Pizzi said. “The training, the practices, everything that they do.”
She’d like to see Hancock grow with new businesses and jobs.
“I think that would help give us more of a base,” Pizzi said.
But she also said that there’s a balance to seeking that growth.
“I want it to grow, but I don’t want it to get so big that, our values as a community, we lose those,” Pizzi said.
She doesn’t want the community to get so big, so fast that people forget about their neighbors.
“Here we have a sense of community,” she said. “And that’s one thing that I’ve really enjoyed.”
Pizzi and her husband have raised four children and have 13 grandchildren. They like to go camping together, and have camped both as nearby as Hancock’s campground and all over the UP in their travel camper.
“He was born and raised here. I’m from California,” she said.
Pizzi moved to the area when she was 16.
For many years, she owned a tailoring shop, managing the books and taxes, while her husband worked for Michigan Tech.
“The shop was in our home, so I could still be home with the kids,” Pizzi said.
Jim DeClerck’s first experience with Copper Country was coming to Michigan Technological University as a student.
“I lived in Hancock actually, like two blocks from where I live right now,” he said.
He has earned three degrees, including a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MTU. His early career was spent downstate working for General Motors, during which he also got married and started his family. Eventually, he had the chance to come back to MTU in a teaching position.
“So we moved back in the fall of ’09 and moved into Hancock,” DeClerck said.
He started getting involved with his wife in the Hancock beautification projects, and that led to his interest in being more involved with community leadership, too.
DeClerck said that his professional career as well as working as an educator have taught him to be organized, and given him decision-making experience.
“So that I think those skills would translate to being a council member,” DeClerck said.
He said Hancock is a great place to live and work, and he’s not looking to change that. DeClerck said Hancock just needs to keep attracting students, tourists and businesses to support the local economy and incomes.
“I’d really like to see some more small businesses in Hancock, you know, we have a number of vacant storefronts in town,” DeClerck said. “That’s the big thing.”
DeClerck is open to discussion on emergency response funding and “defunding the police”.
“I don’t take it as a threat against the police per se,” DeClerck said. “But you know, how can we better serve the people with the emergency situations that they need?”
DeClerck said he would need some time to acclimate to being on the board, and learn about the budget.
“I don’t have plans to make big changes,” DeClerck said. “I’m just volunteering to help.”
Robert Stites moved to the area in 1986, to attend Michigan Tech.
“I just fell in love with the area,” he said.
Rather than finish his degree at MTU, he ended up opting for a career change and focused on what was his part time job, as an EMT for Mercy Ambulance.
“I went and got my paramedic downstate,” Stites said. “And I worked for a couple years in Kalamazoo as a medic and then I came back in 1989.”
He went back to work for Mercy Ambulance, and married a woman from Hancock in 1992. They had a daughter who went through the Hancock school system and graduated from Finlandia University. In 1994, he was hired onto the Hancock Police, where he worked until retirement in 2018.
“Loved it, still love the people,” Stites said.
He plays hockey, hunts, fishes, downhill skis. Stites is also an avid Donald Trump supporter, having funded a large 20-foot billboard for him in Hancock.
In April, Stites went back to work for Mercy Ambulance again because they have a shortage of paramedics.
He said he decided to run partly because of his long service with the city. He says he can put his experience with the way the city works and his knowledge of the people who work there to use on the council. He said snow removal here is “serious business”, and wants to keep the roads clean, get good equipment for city employees while having “the taxes reasonable enough for the taxpayer that you can afford to live within the city.”
He said that other than his long service with the city, he also owns a few rental properties, too.
“So I’ve got a general concept of business,” Stites said.
He said building infrastructure to encourage people coming here to create work, rather than the young people all having to leave to find good work. He said more parking downtown would encourage businesses there.
“If you’re going to get businesses downtown, you’ve got to create decent parking. Whatever that entails,” Stites said.
In fact, the seat is only up for election because when he resigned, it split his four-year term in half. Because his resignation happened in the first half of his term, another election is held for the second half.
“So I’m actually running for a half-term for something I’ve already been elected to,” Haeussler said.
Haeussler was first elected to the city council in 2010, and served a single four-year term. He left the council but continued serving in some appointed positions, and was reappointed to the council in 2017, serving until he was elected again in late 2018.
Haeussler said that the ongoing work on the industrial park, improving downtown parking, ordinances and code enforcement is very important.
“I think there’s a lot of positive things happening in Hancock,” he said, “but I want to at least see it through a little bit further than where they are now.”
He expects the work on the rental ordinance to benefit both renters and landlords, with properties in better condition being more livable, and holding more value.
Haeussler said he brings experience from 11 other public bodies, as well as his former council experience, to bear on Hancock’s problems. He also says he has good relationships with Finlandia University, the local school district and downtown businesses that will facilitate cooperative projects.
“I think I’m a good candidate, because I’m very comfortable voting on what I feel is best for the community and what the community wants, and not what I want,” he said.
He admitted the one issue he’s a little “dug in” on, is the prospect of marijuana businesses in Hancock.
“I have a very difficult time advocating to have businesses downtown, or in the city that I think personally are going to desensitize, particularly our most vulnerable populations to it (marijuana),” Haeussler said.
He said he’s not opposed to adult use marijuana under state law, only the commercialization of it.
“I don’t want the kids to get on the school bus, and pass marijuana shops on the way to school, on the way home from school,” he said.
He also wants the city to keep meeting its retirement obligations.
“The people who have retired, and are still drawing pensions from the city, they deserve to receive what they were told they were going to receive when they were employed,” he said.
Haeussler is a sampling statistician for the University of Michigan, where he earned both his bachelor’s degree and a masters in applied statistics.
“I’ve been doing that for 30 years,” he said. “I am the sampling statistician on what I consider to be the preeminent youth drug study in the country.”
Haeussler is married with two adolescent children, for whom he’s trying to set an example with his public service.
“They see things from a perspective of how beneficial it is to give back to the community, and I think that’s important,” he said.
Haeussler says local history is his favorite hobby. He’s written two books on the topic, and is working on a third.