Newest member sworn in

Jenna Smith’s selection process is controversial

Marquette Mayor Tom Baldini, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Cambana and Commissioner Peter Frazier sit next to the newly appointed member of the commission, Jennifer "Jenna" Smith. Smith is currently employed as a human resources manager for Marquette Public Area Schools and serves on the Marquette Housing Commission Board as vice chairwoman. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — At its regular meeting Monday night, the Marquette City Commission voted to fill a commission seat left vacant by Sara Cambensy, who was elected in November to represent the 109th District in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Marquette Area Public Schools Human Resources Manager Jennifer “Jenna” Smith, 30, won the term that expires Nov. 12, 2018, after receiving the majority of votes.

Applications for the position were accepted Nov. 14-30. In that time, the city clerk received nine applications from interested parties.

Applications were received from Aaron Andres, David Bradley Aro, who was absent from the meeting, Candice Summer Blackstone-Larson, Margaret Brumm, Anthony Wayne Ghiringhelli, Jorma Lankinen, Jermey Ottaway, Jennifer Anne Smith and Tony Tollefson.

Ottaway and Ghiringhelli were two of the six candidates running for three open commission seats in the city-wide, nonpartisan race during the Nov. 7 election.

The commission decided against appointing fourth-place finisher Ghiringhelli to the seat at its regular meeting on Nov. 13, choosing instead to seek applications from the public.

Before the appointment, several people spoke during public comment, mostly stating that Ghiringhelli deserved the seat because he was the fourth vote-getter in the election.

“Everyone made their way to this seat through a democratic process,” said Joseph Rose of Marquette. “I think we need to listen to those thousands of voices that have spoken. Other people (have) come up here and what I see is an easy street to the commission seat. They’ve got a few people who put in a good word for them but we’re not shaking skeletons out of their closets — other candidates put themselves out there.”

As part of the selection process, each applicant was given three minutes to address two or three challenges the city faces in the upcoming year or two.

When applicants finished speaking, the commission voted on their choice.

The first person to receive the majority of votes, which was four or more, was appointed to the unexpired commission term.

During the first round of voting, Ghiringhelli received three votes, Ottoway received one and Smith received two. Applicants that received no votes were cast off the ballot and the commission voted on the three remaining candidates.

During the next round of voting, Ottaway received two votes and Smith received four votes.

Smith said she’s most excited to see “things from a different lens (and) seeing what I can do to help the community. There are a lot of issues and challenges (that) I’ll be trying to pick out in the one-year term that I have that I can make a real impact on.”

Smith, a University of Michigan graduate, lives in Marquette with her husband and daughter. She currently serves as vice chairwoman on the Marquette County Housing Commission and has years of experience in finance, workforce development and human resources.

Smith said some of the challenges Marquette faces is retaining younger professionals, stating she will work hard to support economic developments and retention and recruitment to various boards.

“I’m part of the 40 Below group of young professionals,” she said. “I tried to encourage many women to step up and apply for this position but then I thought if I’m not willing to put myself out there, then I can’t ask the same of others. As a mother of a young child, I thought, OK, I’ll just wait until she’s in high school — but that’s why we don’t have a lot of young women in politics.”

The commission welcomed Smith by stating she’ll be a wonderful asset to the board.

“This was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make as a city commissioner for six years,” Commissioner Fred Stonehouse said. “Part of that was strongly the argument that Ghiringhelli got the votes. He finished fourth and that was a powerful argument. But the argument that the election was finished and closed was a powerful argument too. No matter what we did, we were going to be wrong. It’s one of those situations where you can’t please everyone.”

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.