Please name the top three goals you'd to accomplish as County Commissioner?
We must continue to maintain a balanced budget, pay down our unfunded retirement debt, maintain our buildings and parks, implement our new 9-1-1 system, and provide responsible fiscal oversight. In addition to these absolutes, my top three goals are housing, support for economic development/broadband infrastructure, and working with partners to support our changing demographics.
What should the Commission do to support economic development and jobs in Leelanau County?
The 2016 Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation Report reported that the ‘greatest barriers to growth’ for the County’s businesses were shortage of affordable housing and lack of available workers. Other constraints reported were lack of child care options, lack of overnight accommodations, and lack of high- speed Internet. To address these constraints, the County Commission should act on the recommendations of the County’s Housing Task Force and support the efforts of the LPEF Broadband Committee to attract and promote private investment in the necessary broadband infrastructure.
How should the Commission help solve the problem of too little affordable housing in the county?
I chaired the Leelanau County Housing Task Force that recommended a number of initiatives that would have impacted the availability of housing for young families and workers but the recommendation of the report was defeated on a strict partisan vote.
The Housing Task Force recommended that the County partner with non-profits, local governments, developers, investors, and State/Federal government to address the housing challenges. Further, we recommended that the Commission establish a Leelanau County Housing Committee to develop and promote partnerships and efforts that support local government expansion of housing for Leelanau families, young professionals, business owners and workforce service workers.
The County cannot solve the County’s housing problem alone. But, we can be a partner, with villages, townships, businesses, State government, MSHDA, HUD and developers. In our failure to act on the Housing Task Force recommendations, we lost an opportunity to make a difference.
Many area businesses struggled to find enough employees during the high tourism season – and some curtailed their hours as a result. How can the Commission solve this riddle?
Again, a partial solution is work force housing. With a shortage of housing units, and high commuting costs, businesses will continue to face employee shortages. I believe that the role of the County should be identifying resources, convening stakeholders, creating partnerships, educating the public, reaching out to developers, supporting village/township efforts, promoting zoning review, ensuring timely inspections, and exploring programs and opportunities available through the Land Bank, PILOTs, grant dollars, working with MSHDA/HUD.
What can county government do about Sugar Loaf, which was once Leelanau's largest employer but has been closed for 16 years? Can the Commission do more to empower the construction code authority to take legal action under the resort's current "owners"?
The Sugar Loaf property has been vacant for 16 years, and it has had a negative impact on Leelanau County. The County has limited authority to intercede in the private dealings of a business or property. The courts have ruled on many occasions that the control of zoning regulations and "junk ordinances" are at the discretion of the townships.
The County does have the legal responsibility to enforce the construction codes and the County Prosecutor and Building Officials have filed legal charges against the property owner for code violations. I supported the recommendation of the Prosecutor and the Housing Inspector to adopt a civil infraction ordinance that would allow the Building Official and Prosecutor to pursue fines and penalties against the property owner for code violations. This recommendation was defeated by a majority of the Commission and the County does not have such an ordinance. I hope that this option will be discussed once again by the Commissioners.
What environmental issues are most important to you? What role can the Commission play in protecting our natural resources?
One of my responsibilities as a County Commissioner is to provide leadership to protect what makes our County so very special. With the Leelanau Clean Water Committee, the various lake associations, and townships and villages, we need to adopt ordinances to address issues of faulty septic systems, watershed runoff, invasive species control and misuse of chemicals and contaminants.
The current County Commission voted (twice) against a resolution to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Where do you stand on this issue and why?
Recognizing that the proposed resolution was only advisory in nature, I argued for, and supported, the proposed resolution. Various studies and reports have documented Enbridge’s past problems and current violations and it is clear that Line 5 poses a threat to Lake Michigan and our County’s beaches and tourism industry. Part of being a County Commissioner is providing leadership for necessary action. I believe failure to support the Resolution is a failure to use our positions as local leaders to influence actions by the State government.
What lessons should local government learn from the Flint water crisis? Where do you stand on Gov. Snyder's hallmark initiative, and the state legislature's law, that put power over Flint decisions largely in the hands of a state-appointed emergency manager?
Clearly, the Flint Water Crisis is a textbook example of the failure of State and local government to use governmental oversight to protect residents. The crisis presents a strong case against the appointment of emergency managers as a solution to complex problems and a strong mandate to use existing laws and ordinances to protect our valuable resources.
Politics has reached pitiful new lows this election season. Both presidential candidates are viewed unfavorably, and one of them has made a habit of insulting women, minorities and the handicapped. What, specifically, can you do to promote civility in politics?
Lack of civility and partisan politics pose a real threat to local, state and federal government. To promote civility, I need to know my own views, listen for understanding of opposing views, respect differences, and build relationships. To address this critical problem, I must lead by example and be civil to others.
In a 12/24/15 Leelanau Enterprise Forum column on civility that I wrote just after Commissioner Jean Watkoski resigned, I referred to a recent NY Times columnist who stated, “Too many of our political leaders are putting party before country, power before principle and cynicism before civility.” It is far too easy to spend time defending personal philosophies and partisan viewpoints and too little time considering the merits of opposing views. As Commissioners approach the next year of service, we must hold ourselves accountable for focusing on civil discourse and recognize that the process of making decisions is sometimes as important as the decision itself.
What's your favorite place to spend an afternoon in Leelanau County?
I have many favorite places – Peterson Park in Leelanau Township, the State Park and Leelanau Conservancy trails, Pierce Stocking Drive, and my backyard in Northport.
Anything more you'd like to add?
In the last two years, the County has been aggressive in dealing with long-term liability issues (retirement costs) and our retirement plan is funded at one of the highest levels in Michigan. Additionally, the County has a millage rate of 3.53 which is the lowest County rate in Michigan. We have a balanced budget. The number of construction permits has been on the increase. County buildings have realized an annual energy savings of 35%. Senior Services programs have been expanded and serve approximately 2000 people annually. The Leland Courthouse property has been tentatively sold. All labor contracts have been mutually and peacefully settled with extensions through 2017. Health insurance and retirement benefit costs have been realized and there are no lawsuits or pending labor issues. My fellow Commissioners and I have supported increased expenditures for the Sheriff's Office and added staff to the Prosecutor's Office to address safety issues. The County has healthy fund balances and we accomplished improvements in our parks and other facilities. We also have adopted a Capital Improvement Plan that will guarantee responsible stewardship of County properties.
The County Commission has worked together to focus on fiscal responsibility, customer service, long-range planning, responsible over-sight and community partnerships.