Pleasant Ridge’s New Mayor Plays the Numbers

Pleasant Ridge’s New Mayor Plays the Numbers

Kurt Metzger is a mayor who can do the math. But Pleasant Ridge’s first new mayor in a generation is no number-cruncher; he’s more like a number-coordinator.

Metzger wants to illuminate a “regional vision” for our closely-tied communities to share. It’s possible we could all start seeing this vision by way of numbers and statistics. At least, if any mayor will show you a thing or two about stats and demographics, it’s Metzger. Metzger’s background is in data analysis. He began his career in the ‘70s with the U.S. Census Bureau and recently retired as Director of Data Driven Detroit — a regional information hub for data coordination, providing information analysis for a range of groups and institutions thus that they can make the best-informed decisions. Metzger, who won 53% of the vote in Pleasant Ridge’s mayoral election last November, is the guy, the “data-guru,” as he’s known, who can show you what it all adds up to. Put another way, his equations, if worked out, show the “potential” for improvement.

And, when Ferndale Friends asked Metzger about the “unrealized potential” of the Southeast Michigan region, it strikes quite a chord in him. “That term truly captures the message that I have been trying to spread for years,” said Metzger.

“We have all the pieces here, we just need to figure out how we bring them all together and get them working with a unified vision.”

Metzger assures that he’ll work to preserve and strengthen the close ties between our two communities, along with his amicable relationship with our mayor and council members. There are contractual ties between us, but then, also, we can connect by sharing a new and improved vision (or mentality). Metzger speaks of what’s been, heretofore, a detrimental mentality for our region, that being one of “home rule and win-lose confrontation.”

“We have to begin to believe that collaboration can ‘grow the pie’ for all and get away from the idea that the ‘pie’ is finite and that we can’t afford to share even a sliver.”

Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge are just players in a larger tri-county region, anchored by Detroit. Metzger, who worked downtown for decades as a research analyst for the Michigan Metropolitan Information Center and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, implores that we work together to appreciate “Detroit’s success as being: our success.”

“It starts with Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge,” he said, “and it grows to Hazel Park and Huntington Woods and then Detroit and Highland Park and Warren.”

Metzger grew up in Cincinnati, OH. He moved to Detroit in 1975 to begin his work with the Census Bureau. He spent his first Michigan-years in Ferndale (first on LaPraire and then on Troy St.), before he moved to Pleasant Ridge in the mid ‘80s. As an analyst working in Detroit, Metzger said that “the issues of this region have allowed me a ‘laboratory’ of study where demographic knowledge is critical for understanding regional dynamics.” A mayor who’s constantly contemplating “regional dynamics” and revels in poring over numbers? Metzger likely isn’t your typical idea of a local politician.

“I have a strong belief in fact-based decisions,” he says. Indeed. From the start, that’s refreshing rhetoric. But, like we said, Metzger has the numbers to back himself up.

But, more personally, he’s also been able to work and meet people from all over the state; from corporate execs to block captains, he’s worked with the wealthy and the homeless, from all races and ethnic groups. As Metzger sees it, he’s been fortunate to be able to bring a “gift of information” to the region. “I believe in outcome measurement,” he stressed. “I believe that one needs to monitor results on a regular basis to make sure you are getting your money’s worth.”
Among his respected beliefs are transparency in government, community involvement, and participatory government: open, shared, and debated decision-making. “We’re a small, highly-educated community. I feel we have a chance to take the lead in community involvement. A strong message of open data sharing will drive in increase in resident participation in community decision-making.” He admits, though, an “aversion to politics. I never had an interest in running for anything.”

The City Commission’s vote to cancel its fire contract with Ferndale and switch to Berkley back in 2011 spurred Metzger to get further involved. He found encouragement by two young residents, Ann Perry and Jason Kryziak, winning seats on the Commission. When election season came around “no one else would come forward for mayor,” Metgzer said. “I owed them for their courage over the last two years and therefore could not say no when they asked.” Metzger’s expertise with demographic trends and data coordination has aided the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council, SEMCOG, Michigan Kids Count, the Michigan Early Childhood Investment Council and many more. He has also served on the board for the Greening of Detroit. But as of last November, he’s the mayor-next-door.

“We are working closely with Ferndale to envision regional transit and complete streets coordinated between the two communities,” Metzger said. He’s looking towards developing a seamless set of bus and bike lanes connecting the community and providing a more walkable, friendly Woodward — from Detroit past I-696. “These are exciting discussions that Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge will be driving with SEMCOG, MDOT, and others.” Mayor Metzger proclaims it, (just as our bumper-stickers do): “I love Ferndale! I love the energy of its elected officials,” he continued. “I love the diversity of its residents. It’s a great example of what the Millennials are looking for — density, diversity, walk-ability, a culture of openness and innovation, a government that cares and listens. Not to mention, the best librarians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with….”

“I could go on but…my electorate might start questioning my allegiance.”

Retired from his day job, Metzger is looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 36 years. “We’ll never leave this area,” he assures, proudly and gladly. Professionally, though, he assures that he’ll also never leave “the data-game….in both consulting and volunteer roles with various institutions.”
He’s enthused by his “terrific” Commission partners who are working with him to help Pleasant Ridge blossom into a more “participatory government.” Collaboration, he repeats. A Regional Agenda, he also reiterates.

Sounds good to us. Here’s to a new year, to a new mayor, and to new ideas for collaboration.