Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — Rhonda Estes has it right. And so does her husband, Traverse City Mayor Mike Estes, who was arrested last week on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge.
When Mike Estes told his wife he wanted to immediately resign as mayor and find out if he could withdraw from his re-election bid prior to the Nov. 5 election, Rhonda Estes urged him to take a couple of days to think about it.
The morning after his arrest, Estes summed up his situation.
‘I’m guilty. I put myself in a terrible position ... and I’m totally at fault,’ he said. “No matter what, this is going to negatively impact my ability to serve as city mayor.”
He was right on both counts. But so was his wife. Despite what Estes did to himself, his family and his political future, he should not compound the error by making a rash decision that could weaken city leadership at a time when there are key decisions to be made.
Rick Buckhalter, Estes’ challenger for mayor, pays close attention to city business and often has something to say about it at city commission meetings.
But in all candor Buckhalter is not mayoral material. In his campaign Buckhalter has been pretty much a one-note candidate — he opposes the proposed merger of the city fire department with the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, which serves Acme, East Bay and Garfield townships, something Estes has championed.
Buckhalter has also criticized the downsizing of the police department through recent retirements and says many people perceive the city as unsafe. That’s a rather extreme view not supported by the facts.
Long-shot Commission candidate John Reid, a newcomer to politics who hasn’t voted since 2008, has filed to run as a write-in for mayor. A couple commissioners say they’ve also been urged to jump in to the race. With the election just nine days off, there is no time for voters to make good choices between a host of last-minute additions.
What would be best in the few days left would be for Estes to deal with his court and personal issues, wait for voters to speak and then decide what his future should be. There’s a good chance, in fact, that Estes has already won re-election through absentee ballots.
The time for Estes and the rest of the city commission to decide the mayor’s future should come when the counting is done.
Four of the six current city commissioners told the Record-Eagle last week they don’t want Estes to resign or withdraw from the race. That’s not to say they should have the last word or that the new commission — three of six seats will be decided Nov. 5, with one incumbent running — will agree.
And an informal and decidedly non-scientific poll of a few city voters shows a split between those who think Estes should step down, those willing to give him a chance and those who are still undecided.
As for what Estes should do after the election, there is zero doubt he has done a major disservice to the city, to himself and to his credibility. As more than a few people have pointed out, getting arrested for drunken driving is bad enough; having shown up to a candidate forum after drinking — he said he had one beer — was worse.
If Estes resigns before the Nov. 5 election, the city commission can either appoint a replacement or leave the position vacant until the election. If Estes wins re-election but declines to take office, the commission can appoint a replacement for the remainder of his term or call for a special election in February or May.
Right now, giving voters another shot at choosing a mayor — and giving candidates for the job a chance to tell city residents what they’re all about — is an attractive and fair option.
Though his ideas aren’t always popular and his sometimes-acerbic style rubs a few the wrong way, Estes is a leader and has a vision for what the city needs.
But showing up to a candidate forum after drinking and then driving drunk are not what city taxpayers expect from a leader, no matter his track record.