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Candidate responds to voting record challenge

A Troy city council candidate says challenges to her record of abstaining on votes are misleading.

Stephanie Baker, incumbent for District 4, said a mailer distributed in her district last week by challenger Caleb Dawson misrepresents her actions in abstaining from council votes during the past four years.

Dawson’s mailer says “conflicts of interest have compelled my opponent to abstain from more than twice as many votes as any of her colleagues on the Troy City Council.”

Dawson said he raised the issue of abstentions after reading through the online minutes of the city council. “Part of my preparation for running for office was to see what the council had been up to,” Dawson said. “I kept noticing my opponent had abstained on these votes.”

Baker said on Monday the mailer’s inference fails to consider the context of the votes.

“It is unfortunate that my opponent has attempted to find fault with my service on the City Council rather than focusing on his own values and qualifications,” she said. “Within the small number of times I did abstain, it was done in an over-abundance of caution and with respect for my ethical obligations. My abstentions never affected outcomes and never denied the constituents their voice.”

Baker said the council has taken 405 votes since she took office in November 2016. She has abstained from voting 12 times, less than 3% of all votes.

“In each of those votes, the agenda item passed unanimously with the exception of my vote, meaning had I voted yay or not it would not have changed the outcome.”

According to Baker, two of the abstentions were on votes to appoint the municipal judge. “My husband, Matt Baker, was appointed municipal judge by a previous council on October 2016,” she said. “When the new council took office the next month, we re-appointed the municipal judge, along with the city clerk, chief of police and fire chief. Obviously, I abstained.

“Actually, when the vote was called, I voted ‘nay’ in my nervousness of my first council meeting. Everyone laughed and it broke the tension … I quickly asked the clerk to record my vote as an abstention.”

Because the appointments are reconsidered each year, she abstained again in October 2018.

Six of the abstentions were related to grants for airport improvements. “The airport is a facility that my employer, KW Plastics, uses frequently for business and is something that my father has personally invested a lot of his time and guidance into ensuring our local airport is well-equipped and in compliance with FAA.”

The abstentions related to ADEM grant funding for the city’s recycling center. “In my role at KW Plastics, I was very involved in working with state officials to establish the ADEM recycling grant program. It’s a grant program that receive national accolades and something I am proud to have been a part of long before I held elected position,” she said. “I abstained from voting to receive the grant because KW Plastics purchases some of the materials derived from the bailer and carts that grant monies were used for.”

She also abstained from Ordinance 395, which was an amendment to the city’s utility ordinance. “Due to the heavy industrial load that the KW and Sanders companies purchases, it allows the City of Troy a better wholesale price on the open market which in turn allows for savings that are passed on to all City of Troy utility customers,” Baker said. “While there was certainly no conflict to speak of, I did feel that it was not ethically appropriate to take action on accepting the cost savings amendment.”

Other council members have abstained from votes, as well, including Marcus Paramore, who has abstained from votes relating to his employer, Troy. University, and Wanda Moultry, who has abstained from voting on the city budget each year because her employer, OCAP, receives city funds.

Dawson said Monday he does not believe he would have similar conflict of interest on those issues.

“I’ve been thinking about that, but I can’t see how I would need to abstain on the votes she abstained from,” he said. “I’m a small businessman, I don’t have a big financial stake in the votes or family members employed by the city,” he said.

Baker said she continues to remain focused on a positive campaign and on representing the citizens of her district. “To be honest, this seems to be a dirty and desperate attempt that was made without Mr. Dawson realizing the seriousness of his own personal conflicts,” she said. “I  have chosen to run a clean race that best reflects my values and  intentions and I will continue to do so.  Our community deserves leadership that will bring unity and not divisiveness. ”