WHITEHALL, MI – Two city council members are facing off in this year’s general election to become Whitehall’s first elected mayor.
Debra Hillebrand and Steven Salter are running in the election that will be held Nov. 2. Absentee ballots currently are available.
Salter has two years remaining in his council member term. If he is elected mayor, the council will appoint someone to fill the remainder of his term. If he doesn’t win, Salter will retain his seat on the council.
Hillebrand’s council member term ends this year and will be off the council if she’s not elected mayor.
The mayor serves as the seventh member of the council.
This year marks the first year that the city’s mayor will be elected by popular vote rather than appointed by the council. The change is the result of an amendment to the city charter that voters approved in 2019.
To help readers learn about the candidates, MLive sent them a questionnaire about their candidacy, including their background information.
Hillebrand, 52, is the current appointed mayor, having held that position since 2017. She has been on the council since 2015.
She is the owner and innkeeper of The Lewis House Bed & Breakfast and has a master’s degree in chemistry from Penn State University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton.
Hillebrand is a member of the Montague-Whitehall Rotary, the White Lake Association, the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, White Lake Area Women and Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.
She is married and has one child.
Salter, 70, has served on the Whitehall City Council since 2015.
He is retired from GHSP in Grand Haven and is a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran. He has an associate’s degree from Muskegon Community College.
Salter is a member of the Whitehall Planning Commission and Whitehall Marina Advisory Committee. He serves as Whitehall’s representative to the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission and is a board member of HarborLight Credit Union.
He volunteered for the Petunia Patrol for the last three years and is president and founder of the Killer Blues Nonprofit Co., which also is known as the Killer Blues Headstone Project.
Salter has two children and four grandchildren.
Below is how the candidates responded to questions. Candidates were asked to keep responses to 250 words. Their responses have not been edited by MLive.
Why should voters elect you?
Hillebrand: I love living in Whitehall and am passionate about contributing to our community. As a Whitehall City Council member since 2015, I continue to invest time and energy to the betterment of Whitehall on behalf of our residents. As Mayor since 2017, I have developed a respected working relationship with city staff, fellow council and community members and have worked to hone my leadership and organizational skills. I bring a calm voice of reason to city council. I’m a patient, respectful listener. I do my homework before each meeting and I give careful consideration to the issues at hand. I seek out and weigh input and information and make decisions that focus on the greater good while also focusing on the longer term goals for the city. I will always work to make decisions and changes that enhance and improve the lives of Whitehall residents.
Salter: I am a dedicated public servant, deeply involved in my community and eager to give back. The people of this community deserve someone who is engaged and involved. I believe I am that person. I welcome any and all questions and concerns about the Whitehall City Government. If I don’t have the answer, I will work to find it.
If elected, what will be your top three priorities?
Hillebrand: 1) Increase Whitehall’s vibrancy by identifying strategic ways to assist and encourage business development, especially retail and food establishments. We also need to ensure that accessibility and green infrastructure considerations are part of any street, sidewalk, or parking area improvement. 2) Enhance Whitehall’s charm and beauty with a focus on addressing blight and identifying strategic ways to efficiently support grounds maintenance, such as making sure the bike paths and parks are well groomed. We need to focus on maintaining what we already have before considering adding more ‘nice to haves’. 3) Improve city council transparency and public awareness by publicizing more of what we’re working on as a city. We need to seek and encourage more public input and community involvement in setting priorities. Website rework, town hall meetings, live view council and board meetings, additional social media activity and a return of ‘Donuts with Debi’ (regular open office with the mayor) will all help to achieve this goal.
Salter: 1. Continue to provide basic services within a balanced budget. 2. Improve infrastructure. 3. Provide Fair and equal treatment for all residents.
Also on MLive