Chelsea voters form citizens PAC

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Juanita Champion held a picture of Chelsea’s quaint, un-manned Fire Station No. 2 on Highway 69, with another photograph of the new Chelsea City Hall beneath it.

To her, the contrast of the multi-million dollar brick city hall and the hardly-noticeable fire station displays the skewed priorities of Chelsea’s elected officials, she said.

Champion and her husband, Wayne, formed the Chelsea Voters for Better Government Political Action Committee in December.

The Champions completed their Political Action Committee registration process and were approved by the Secretary of State on Dec. 11.

Unlike most PACs, the Champions said they aren’t interested in endorsing any particular candidates or political party.

Instead, Juanita Champion said they want to educate voters in Chelsea.

According to state law, political groups must formally register as PACs with the Secretary of State if the group intends to affect the outcome of an election.

The objective list on the Chelsea PAC’s application is short: &uot;to educate citizens about issues affecting the quality of life in Chelsea, and to encourage qualified citizens to seek elective offices.&uot;

&uot;Unlike most PACs, we’re not supporting a candidate,&uot; Juanita Champion said. &uot;We’re more like an educational arm.&uot;

For Juanita Champion, city politics was a foreign affair until she and her husband began attending city council meetings regularly. Beforehand, she did not know council members’ names, she said.

A zoning issue during Spring of 2003 affecting property adjacent to their home in the Country Side subdivision spawned the Champions’ interest in city decision-making.

Since then, the Champions have been regulars at city council meetings, and now they hope the entire city will become more involved.

Juanita and Wayne mail out about 1,400 Chelsea Voters for Better Government newsletters each month to registered voters. Juanita Champion said she aims to draw non-voters into the decision-making process, as well.

Already, Juanita Champion has noticed the gap between elected officials and many residents of Chelsea. Each newsletter from the PAC includes several mentions of the Aug. 24 election, since she said so many people assume the election is in November.

To help encourage new candidates, the newsletters also include information from the Secretary of State about running for public office.

&uot;People are telling me that these letters are making a difference and that they’re going to run,&uot; Juanita Champion said.

Chelsea, like many other Shelby County cities, has had to adapt quickly to rapid growth. The city of about 4,200 people has only had two municipal elections, with incumbent Mayor Earl Niven Sr. completing his eighth year. He ran un-opposed during the last election.

The Champions hope to change that on August 24 for the city’s third election.

Juanita Champion said she would like to see more opponents. According to her, Chelsea government suffers from a lack of input from multiple sources.

&uot;I want to see the checks and balances of a good council-mayor government,&uot; she said.

Part of the goal of the Chelsea Voters for Better Government is supporting city services, which Juanita Champion said sometimes comes in second place on the city’s priority list.

Juanita Champion said the current administration has put the city into deep debt with warrants for a new city hall and a water project.

According to Juanita Champion, the city council chose to take out a $2 million warrant for the new city hall at the corner of County Roads 39 and 47. She said the warrant is a loan available to city officials with tax-levying authority.

The warrants do not require a public vote of approval, unlike other borrowing options such as bonds. Juanita Champion said another warrant for $3 million is for a water line going east on Highway 280.

The city held no public hearing on either of the warrants.

Juanita Champion said it is ironic the city found good reason to call a public meeting about Weldon’s Store, which sits in front of the new Chelsea City Hall and must be removed.

&uot;The city held a public meeting on what to do with it (Weldon’s Store), but no public meeting on the millions of dollars it takes to do these other things,&uot; Juanita said.

A recent newsletter from the Chelsea Voters for Better Government details the issue.

&uot;I think people are worried about our debt. We’re educating the people about what’s going on,&uot; Juanita Champion said.

&uot;I feel like we have to get our priorities right. There are so many more issues other than a fancy city hall.&uot;

Juanita Champion doesn’t care who runs for mayor and council in Chelsea this fall – just so long as they make the city’s services a priority.

&uot;We just want them to set priorities for dealing with services that enhance the quality of life in Chelsea – and not put us so in debt,&uot; she said.