In their own words: Livonia city council hopefuls share how they'd govern if elected – Hometown Life

Seven Livonians are running for four available seats on city council.
Council members Jim Jolly, Laura Toy and Rob Donovic are all looking to reclaim their seats, and newcomers Carrie Budzinski, Dan Centers, Ken Overwater and Scott Morgan tossed their names in the ring, too. Livonia City Council is a nonpartisan body.
Carrie Budzinski, 33, works as the chief operating officer for LittleGuide Detroit. She currently chairs Livonia’s library commission. 
Dan Centers, 36, is the chief of staff for state Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia). Centers has also served on the Livonia Public Schools board for seven years. 
Rob Donovic, 29, is the youngest person ever elected to Livonia’s council. He’s self-employed and works in real estate. 
Jim Jolly, 39, is seeking a second elected term on council. Jolly has previously served as magistrate and a court officer in the city and currently works as assistant provost at Lawrence Technological University.
Scott Morgan, 53, works in construction operation and security. He was a Livonia police officer for 25 years and is currently a member of the city’s zoning board of appeals. 
Ken Overwater, 40, is an attorney. He’s spent his career working as a public defender. 
Laura Toy, 69, has served on council on and off since the 1980s and has been city treasurer. Toy co-owns Cardwell Florist in Livonia and has previously been a state senator, state representative and Schoolcraft College trustee. 
Voters will choose four candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 2. 
In Livonia, the person who earns the most votes becomes council president, and the second place finisher becomes vice president. Both candidates will earn four-year seats. The third place finisher will serve a four-year term, and the fourth place candidate will receive a two-year term.
Right now, the council president earns $18,519 annually and council members make $17,270 annually. However, the Livonia Local Officers Compensation Commission will meet in late 2021 to determine compensation for elected officials, including council members, for 2022 and 2023. Traditionally, the commission gives officials a small pay raise. 
Hometown Life sent questionnaires to each candidate seeking information on their platforms. Each question was given a 50-word limit, and answers exceeding that limit were cut short. 
Budzinski: I want to help people connect with their government. I post summaries of city council meetings, offer serious responses to constituent concerns (following a resident email, I organized a porch-pickup and collected 1,000 lbs. of hazardous waste), and practice proactive community engagement (I raised $1,600 for new library books).
Centers: As a Livonia school board member for seven and a half years I have developed a reputation as someone who can work with a diverse set of people to get things done for Livonia residents. Livonia is a great community, but we have an opportunity to make it even better.
Donovic: My family immigrated to America in the ’80s with nothing. My family taught their children to appreciate our community. I’m running for the reasons I joined the military, served in the Middle East and joined the police department, to give back to the community that gave my family everything.
Jolly: I want to build upon things like the neighborhood grant program that has supported over 100 community projects, Tatigian Trail, Livonia Vision 21 and supporting our public safety professionals. I believe there is more work to be done and I want to finishing what was started.
Morgan: My entire career has been dedicated to service, and I look forward to serving all Livonia citizens on city council. Twenty-five years of watching over our streets, neighborhoods and businesses as a Livonia police officer gave me unique insight on the opportunities and challenges facing our community.
Overwater: To serve. I have spent most of my career working in public service, but I want to serve the community where my family lives. We need reasonable people who are willing to listen and work with all Livonians, and I will do that.
Toy: I’ve always had a passion for public service. I want to continue to put my knowledge and experience to work for the residents of Livonia. When I examine policy and budget proposals I want to ask thoughtful questions to achieve the best possible outcomes for our city and its people.
Centers: Livonia is a great community. However, it’s important that our community remains safe. We are still facing first-responder shortages. It is important that when our neighbors call 911 they have the quick response they expect. I will examine our contracts and recruiting practices to attract the best talent to Livonia.
Donovic: Blight and crime are the most important issues facing Livonia. A safe community is a strong community. We must provide our police and inspection department the best resources to keep Livonia safe and clean. Dilapidated buildings attract crime and lower our property taxes. We must maintain the highest of standards.
Jolly: The top issue is always to remain a safe and engaging community. I will continue to support public safety and will focus on projects and issues that keep Livonia a desirable place to live with strong neighborhoods, parks and community offerings.
Morgan: Public safety is always my top priority, while ensuring that Livonia maintains a high quality of life with excellent services and a low tax rate. If we continue to excel in these areas, Livonia will remain an attractive home for anyone that chooses to live here. 
Overwater: Our biggest issue is ensuring that Livonia continues to grow and thrive while maintaining the qualities that make it great. I will ensure that our city services and first responders have the resources they need and focus on developments that improve our neighborhoods while maintaining their characters.
Toy: Priority issues are aging infrastructure, city services and proposed development in both residential and commercial areas. The solution is listening to residents’ needs and concerns and I have formed a neighborhood group with round tables for their input and concerns. We need to make sure there’s added value for people.
Budzinski: We can’t be afraid of change and must be proactive when planning for our future. If elected, I will continue to advocate for sustainable living solutions (I brought curbside compost collection to Livonia), provide assistance to businesses and explore innovative ideas that can help keep Livonia competitive.
Donovic: By serving Livonians, regardless of where you come from or what you look like. As a councilman, I’ve helped residents from all walks of life. I’ve had the pleasure of working with residents and business owners who love our city, and I will continue to do that. It’s my job.
Jolly: I am a representative for every Livonian because I listen to all the perspectives and show consideration to everyone before I make decisions. I understand what has made our community great and that we all find our own way to contribute to this place we call home.
Morgan: It’s important to be quick to listen and be actively involved with the residents and businesses of our city. I believe my leadership experience and employment in both the public and private sectors uniquely positions me to effectively serve and represent everyone.
Overwater: By listening. We can improve our increasingly divisive society is connecting with each other, honest, thoughtful conversation and truly listening to others. Disagreements need not be acrimonious, and those with whom we disagree are not our enemies. We can and must work together, and I will do that every day.
Toy: I think it starts with welcoming people to our community and seeking out diverse opinions when we consider city issues. I often send letters to new residents welcoming them to our city and sharing information about city services as well as my contact information. It’s all about communication and listening.
Budzinski: Sen. Carl Levin taught me everyone matters and deserves the government’s time and attention. And to work a problem until a constituent is satisfied — this doesn’t always mean a favorable outcome but it means a person should always understand a response. I’m here to listen, learn and share information.
Centers: Having been elected three times in Livonia, I know that the Livonia community wants leaders who listen and are thoughtful about important issues. Also, residents want people who will work with people from different perspectives to get things done. Those are guiding principles that motivate me as an elected official.
Jolly: We have recently updated Livonia’s zoning ordinance to allow more flexibility while we tackle vacant storefronts with a changing retail climate. We need to communicate the opportunities that the Livonia community offers with its location and supply of hard working and educated people.
Morgan: As a member of council, I will work with our economic development department and chamber of commerce to help draw new business investments into our community. I will also work with our current business owners to assist with any needs they may have to maintain or improve their business operations.
Overwater: I will learn from our business leaders and work with them to provide the resources they need to succeed and support our community. Specifically, we can work to connect our schools and colleges with employers to help address our labor shortages and employ our residents.
Toy: I am co-owner of a women-owned small business — Cardwell Florist on Plymouth Road — in Livonia for over 40 years so I am very sensitive to the needs of our businesses, both small and large. I’m a strong supporter of shopping locally. Also keeping strong city services and…
Budzinski: I am not a business owner and I do not assume to know what is best for those that are. I will listen to concerns and consider ideas. I will actively engage with the business community to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed in Livonia.
Centers: Livonia’s business community is a vital part of our city, and some have struggled emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a senate staffer I am familiar with state and federal resources available to aid our small businesses. I will work to make sure they have the financial support they need.
Donovic: As a small business owner, I understand the difficulties of owning a business. Keeping property taxes low, minimizing fees and local regulatory burdens and keeping government out of the way of small businesses. Business is attracted to areas with high standards and clean properties, giving our residents more consumer options.
Morgan: I believe the Livonia Vision 21 plan would enhance our city tremendously. I’m excited about the community gathering spaces that have been proposed. I will work with our residents, business owners, city departments and investors to develop plans consistent with the Livonia Vision 21 project.   
Overwater: While not as exciting as a downtown development or walk and bike trails, the improvements and simplification of our zoning ordinances will help encourage more development in Livonia. I want to ensure that we can attract new business and residents while maintaining the things our current ones love about Livonia.
Toy: Our central campus at 5 Mile and Farmington is the heart of our city, but there are other areas too that we can transform into hubs for neighborhoods around our city as mini-centerpieces, such as the Plymouth Road corridor, 7 Mile and Middlebelt, and 7 Mile and Farmington. 
Budzinski: It’s important that city council maintains its commitment to implementing Vision 21. During this campaign, the number one item residents bring up is “Downtown Livonia.” We may never have a traditional downtown but the special planning areas identified in LV21 have the potential to fulfill that desire.
Centers: There are several exciting elements of the Vision 21 plan. Perhaps the most exciting aspect is creating micro-downtown spaces in Livonia. When I go door to door talking to residents, this is something they feel is missing in Livonia, and there is a lot of excitement around this plan.
Donovic: As we move into the future, market needs change. Offering different housing options for families and modernizing our zoning for businesses to develop their properties will make us a destination community. The plan identifies important spaces to enhance our new housing and business development to make us a competitive city.
Jolly: The Livonia Vision 21 will NOT transform Livonia into something unrecognizable, but rather it allows us to build on Livonia’s solid base by allowing more flexibility and options for consideration. I am excited to create more engaging spaces that will strengthen our sense of community.
Overwater: I’m an attorney, not a civil engineer, but I know our infrastructure was not designed for the increasingly severe weather in Michigan. We must listen to the experts and invest in our aging infrastructure in ways that make sense, providing the greatest benefit to Livonians.
Toy: As with all aging infrastructure, eventually you’re going to need capital improvements. Unfortunately, the rains we saw this past year have been like no others in recent times. We need to continue working with our engineers and our residents to both educate and plan for the future.
Budzinski: The city budgets $0 for the storm water system. We have experienced department heads who understand what the problems are and what we need to do to fix them. It’s the city’s responsibility to give them the resources and support they need to provide the best services to our community.
Centers: Livonia needs significant improvements to the underground infrastructure and the roads. I will work to secure state and federal infrastructure grants that can be used to pay for improvements in our city.
Donovic: We as a city can make sure that when we replace pipes in the ground or new developments are proposed, that modern materials are used so they last longer and require less deferred maintenance. However, cities realistically just don’t have the amount of money needed to replace underground infrastructure.
Jolly: Livonia’s infrastructure is aging, but we have proved that we can create a process that works with our roads program. The roads under Livonia’s control are well maintained and consistently improved. We need to make similar investment in tackling other infrastructure proactively.
Morgan: The city council has recently held committee meetings to address these issues. I would want these meetings to continue to provide us with regular status updates and discussions with our city engineers, DTE and experts in the field regarding improvements or upgrades to the areas needed to alleviate these problems.  
Toy: Our goal is to make Livonia a city where everyone feels welcome and unfortunately historically this has not always been the case. The city has implemented diversity training for its staff and we have started important community conversations about how to work towards this goal, we will continue this work.
Budzinski: I’m mixed, black and white. Racial equity isn’t a talking point for me, it’s my lived experience. I hope that my ability to bring a different perspective to official conversations can help add a new level of understanding and lead to more progress in Livonia.
Centers: It is important that Livonia is an arms wide open community. For that reason, I would support a non-discrimination ordinance. Most of our neighboring communities already have a non-discrimination ordinance, and it provides peace of mind that all Livonia families are valued and appreciated.
Donovic: We as a society, not a city, must not allow the color of a person’s skin or where they originally came from dictate how we treat people. A person’s character and how they treat others should be the only factor that matters, not what someone looks like.
Jolly: I will continue to listen and take appropriate steps to communicate that Livonia is a great community that welcomes everyone whether they are here to live, work or play.
Morgan: Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and I feel Livonia is a welcoming community to anyone that wants to call it home. Where people feel differently, open and honest communication is key to building constructive relationships within our community. 
Overwater: Conversations are a good thing, especially difficult conversations about important topics. I will continue to have these conversations with people of all backgrounds, and I will support policies that engender racial equity, such as a nondiscrimination ordinance, to ensure that Livonia earns a reputation as a city that welcomes all.
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Budzinski: Our country is divided but our community doesn’t have to be. My priorities are public service and policies — not politics. If you have questions, ask me anything.
Centers: I pride myself on being a trusted choice by our community, and someone with a reputation of getting things done. There is a great deal of opportunity to make our great city even better. I would be honored to once again have the support of our community in November.
Donovic: I am honored to be running for re-election, serving on city council has been a pleasure. Thank you to my family and friends for helping and supporting me, I couldn’t do it without you. God Bless each of you, this great community and country.
Jolly: I am proud to call Livonia home and for what we have accomplished so far. I am humbled and honored to represent you on city council and to be able to serve our community. Every day I try to make this a better community for my family and yours.
Morgan: I am proud to have raised my family in Livonia and served this city for 25 years in the police department. I would be honored to continue to serve my fellow citizens on city council, and I am ready to hit the ground running.
Overwater: I help our most vulnerable people in their greatest need, providing a voice for the voiceless. I work with prosecutors, police officers, probation agents, social workers, experts and judges to help my clients and their communities. If elected, I will work and advocate for every Livonian and our great community.
Toy: Communication is key to so many of the issues we’ve discussed — the most important job I have as a councilwoman is to listen to our residents. We are a great city with so many amenities, excellent services, desirable neighborhoods, and successful businesses — let’s work together for an even brighter future.
Contact reporter Shelby Tankersley at [email protected] or 248-305-0448. Follow her on Twitter @shelby_tankk

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