Negaunee City Council to interview, appoint new member

NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee City Council will consider applications Thursday from four residents to fill the seat left vacant in January by the death of Councilman Mike VanStraten.

The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Negaunee Senior Center.

The applicants are Negaunee Planning Commission members Gary Sjolund and Jonathan Becker, Marquette County Planning Commission member Benjamin Banfield and former Negaunee Councilman Toby Smith.

Councilman Paul Maino made a motion to appoint Becker based on the November election results during a regular council meeting on Feb. 8, but the motion failed 4 to 2.

The council ultimately voted to approve a second motion to advertise for applicants and make the appointment from a pool of candidates.

Becker was the third-place finisher for a council seat in November, garnering 419 votes, Van Straten won his seat with 613 votes, followed by Councilman David Kangas who was re-elected to his seat with 468 votes.

A deep-seated belief in the value of public service is a core reason to serve on the council, Becker said in a letter accompanying his application.

“I’m committed to making our community a better place to live, work, raise a family and operate business,” Becker wrote. “I am the best candidate for the vacant city council position due to my demonstrated commitment to improving our community, my professional expertise, planning commission experience and my clear position in terms of succession based on the vote of the people.”

Former council member Toby Smith, who was also an auditor for the city, said he would like to continue to help the city transition with its new manager, Nate Heffron.

He said he wishes to “help improve the city for those who live and work here.”

Smith got 174 votes in the November election for the seat currently held by Maino.

Planning Commissioner Gary Sjolund said in letter of intent accompanying his application that he intends to be the “voice of the people of Negaunee.”

“I will listen to their concerns, issues and problems and help them navigate through city government to reach resolutions,” Sjolund wrote. “I am retired and have the time to be a working council member, (and) attend at least one meeting per year of each of the city’s boards and commissions.”

Sjolund garnered 210 votes in the November election for the seat currently held by Maino.

Banfield is the only one of the four applicants that did not throw his hat in the ring during the November election. He is currently a member of the Marquette County Planning Commission and a U.S. Army veteran.

He said he wishes to be appointed because he feels it necessary to serve the citizens of the city in which he lives, according to his application form.

“I would like to give my input to help the city continue to be a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” Banfield wrote, “while continuing to grow and provide opportunities for all.”

The person appointed to the vacant seat will hold the position until the next regular election, according to the city charter.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is