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Grand Traverse County Commission

Overview

In preparation for the November 3 general election, Traverse Connect and the Traverse City Young Professionals (TCYP) would like to offer candidates the opportunity to provide information to our business community investors through online profiles.

Traverse Connect is the lead economic development organization for the Grand Traverse region and supports area businesses through a combination of business attraction and retention strategies, talent development efforts, and strategic coordination among partner agencies. We are focused on advancing the economic vitality of the Grand Traverse Region through the growth of family-sustaining careers. To this end, we serve the important role of sharing with the business community how candidates would advocate for issues important to our investors.

Grand Traverse County Commission Candidates:

  • Betsy Coffia (D) – District 1
  • Josephine Ferry (R) – District 1
  • Bryce Hundley (D) – District 2
    • *No response received from candidate
  • Melissa Hogan (D) – District 3
  • Brad Jewett (R) – District 3
    • *No response received from candidate for general election profile, but the candidate’s primary profile is available here
  • Brace Kern (D) – District 4
  • Penny Morris (R) – District 4
  • Ron Clous (R) – District 5
    • *No response received from candidate
  • Jade Prange (D) – District 5
    • *No response received from candidate
  • Bruce Moore (D) – District 6
  • Darryl V. Nelson (R) – District 6
  • Robert D. Hentschel (R) – District 7
    • *No response received from candidate for general election profile, but the candidate’s primary profile is available here

Some candidates have more information available in our candidate profiles from the primary election here.

Candidate Profiles

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I want the entire community including our business owners to know that my focus is squarely on acting in the public interest in every decision I make. It is critical to the public interest that we have thriving local businesses with good paying jobs and sustainable practices that enhance life for everyone. County government needs to continually work to find ways to work with and support local businesses thriving in our region as critical economic drivers, and as payers of a significant portion of our tax base.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
No public body can be fully effective without strong and enforced measures of transparency, accountability and ethics. I will push for badly needed and long overdue updates to our ethics policies to address such concerns as financial conflict of interest by decision makers. As I have in my first term, I will continue to work for policies and practices of ethics and transparency in every aspect of county government, starting with our own board. Housing is another major concern. I will continue to seek opportunities to leverage the tools at the county’s disposal to address this crucial issue. We should be a leader and convener on housing, and should be fully using our Land Bank to help ensure more of our citizens have adequate housing. COVID19 revealed major gaps in rural wifi access.. Many families have no reliable internet which disproportionately hurt working class rural students’ educational progress when they were expected to learn remotely. There are millions in USDA funding the county should be pursuing and assisting smaller units of government within our borders to access for public private partnerships to install broadband. This will help with not only education, but also telemedicine and small business viability. We need jail and criminal justice reform and urgently need body cameras, implicit bias training, anti profiling policy etc. We must do much better on treating addiction and mental health, instead of criminalizing them. I am committed to these priorities. Finally, as one of the fastest growing counties in Michigan, we need to get serious about our strategic planning and shift from the current model of simply looking at a year at a time, to planning with professional support for the next 10-20 years.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
We have had an historic tendency to be adversarial particularly with the city, which is of course the county seat and certainly full of county taxpayers. I think it is critical we shift to an understanding of ourselves as the jurisdiction that overlays all 13 townships and the city and act as the leader and convener we should be for the good of taxpayers no matter where they reside in our county. I also believe we need to be a more active partner with our state legislators as they certainly are making decisions, whether about taxation or otherwise, that impact our local residents. I believe we should establish regular public updates from our State House Representative and State Senator as part of our County Commission meetings, along with our member of Congress considering Grand Traverse County is by far the most populated county in the entire 1st Congressional District.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
Representation is important and I have experience as a young professional in this community that helps inform my decision making. I know the struggles of working for a viable future in a region with often unattainable housing, with lower wages compared to other regions, and I share the concern of many in my demographic that we address these needs and challenges to make our region a place where young professionals can actually live, work, stay and THRIVE.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
It is difficult to pinpoint the top challenges as there are so many, but certainly among them are the dramatic and damaging impact to our small businesses with closures, increased cost related to COVID safety precautions, staffing shortages and on the list goes. I know the impact of loss of childcare and children in need of virtual education with parental supervision has also been a major challenge for our businesses and work force. And certainly, our public education system is a big reason people choose to come to and stay in our community and our already underfunded school systems in GT County have suffered under the challenges the pandemic has caused to education delivery as well as the ways per pupil funding have been jeopardized. I have taken the position from the beginning of the pandemic of fully supporting our health department in addressing public safety under pandemic conditions, and supporting our county administrator and health officer in working closely with the business community and other community leaders on the Joint Operations Center.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I am a big supporter of a family business.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
1. Decrease pension debt.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
No more taxes.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
Support new business coming into the community.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
Yes we’re in a pandemic but I believe we need to open up businesses because I would hate to see more bankruptcies for family business and corporations.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I have been an active member of the community as a working professional, volunteer, and parent. I have strong, positive relationships which will help generate ideas and enthusiasm to better our community. I am very willing to listen to anyone who will collaborate and dedicate time and energy into solutions that will benefit our community.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
1. Use the LEAN concept regarding our existing resources to incorporate use of existing facilities and staff to provide mental health solutions locally. Make certain we have someone dedicated to applying for the funds available via the federal and state level to support mental health initiatives. I feel it is important to gather input from all individuals who are dealing with the fallout from lack of mental health support locally including the police department and court system where many of these individuals find themselves. This is a community problem that requires a community solution.

2. Affordable housing has been a known issue for a very long time. In talking with young folks trying to get there life started, they all share the same story. How are we going to attract and keep high quality young people working in the trades and recent graduates if they cannot afford housing? Not having a solution or a willingness to generate an outside of the box scenario to fix this problem has and will continue to cost our community. I am sure some of you know this all too well in your inability to staff your business. We can not afford to neglect this problem any longer. I have already had several very promising discussions with several individuals willing to make a commitment to help solve this problem. My point being, this affects all of us in some fashion.

3. Have meaningful discussions to generate solutions for our worsening infrastructure. We can no longer pass on this. I understand this is potentially going to inconvenience some of us, however, the neglect or inability to generate long term solutions has to come to an end if we expect our community to thrive long term.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
Absolutely. This is one of my special skills. It takes a willingness to really listen in order to come up with win/win scenarios. Respecting the position and concerns of the other jurisdictions has to be on the table. Talking through various options may lead to a solution that neither originally had thought of prior.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
I arrived to the area as a young professional. Due to the higher cost of living and significantly lower compensation combined with my student loan debt, I could not return immediately. I had to wait until I was debt free and had extra money before I could afford to move back to the area and take a huge cut in pay. I was determined to move back to regain the quality of life I left, however it was a tough move financially. And professionally, my options were also very limited. I am hoping to help solve some of the issues that made it difficult for myself to return to the area with my professional skills. I fully understand what it is like.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
Helping the community, both businesses and individuals, find the positive elements of these times. This pandemic has been stressful, but not insurmountable. We have a community that cares. We are very lucky in many regards. There are opportunities to propel and innovate in the face of adversity; especially with regard to public health, infrastructure solutions, encouraging remote work when possible. Being forced to address out infrastructure needs as a community will benefit us in the long run. With inclement weather we can more safely work from home, folks who spend a lot of time driving can spend less time if they continue some remote work. The ability to be more efficient with our time without the added stress and impact of driving on ourselves and the environment as well as added wear and tear to our vehicles can be profound positives. This pandemic has exposed our community strengths and weaknesses. We need to look at this pandemic as a chance to make lasting positive changes that will benefit our community into the foreseeable future.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
From our early logging history to today’s tourism, everything in our community revolves around our waterways. As an attorney who moved here from Manhattan, I would not have done so but for the vibrancy of this community’s economy, recreational offerings, and crystal clean waterways. But, we are experiencing record breaking high water levels that are submerging our infrastructure and backwashing our sewage into our waterways. In response, our County Commissioners said “let’s pray for a dry summer.” Unlike them, I will not stand idly by as our most precious resource is contaminated. I will create committees for our citizens with specialized knowledge to join and collaborate to provide recommendations for solutions to our community’s most overwhelming issues.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
Clean water preservation, affordable housing development, and child care expansion.
We must prepare our infrastructure for what water levels could realistically be, instead of basing our estimates on what they have historically been. Our elected officials have failed to act despite 5 years of increasing water levels. They can’t just stick their heads in the sand, especially when the sand is full of water. We need experts and professionals to recommend solutions that are based on science.

An affordable housing solution has got to break the mold. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. We need to create Planned Unit Developments of quaint villages of tiny homes to kickstart home ownership for low earners.

Working families are being priced out of housing, health care, and child care. As for child care, there should be a Safe Harbor option: employed supervisors, but volunteer staff. We are fortunate to have much higher volunteer rates than most communities, and it’s time to turn those volunteers toward serving our working families. Since wages have remained stagnant, we must reduce the expenses of our low earners or we won’t have any employees to work in our businesses.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
Recently, I was troubled by seeing both Long Lake Township and Green Lake Township pass millages to build themselves two new fire department stations that are less than 10 miles from each other. As a County Commissioner, I will create a committee whose job it is to coordinate collaboration between neighboring jurisdictions to reduce the millages that our residents must bear while still providing the services that they want. Our elected officials are not taking advantage of the law of large numbers that is available to them because they simply want more funding for their own jurisdiction. We need more leadership focused on the “we” instead of the “me.”

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
Because I am a young professional (or at least was not too long ago). I’m 43 with a 2-year old daughter and another child on the way. Since I chased a career across the country, I was late to settle down. So, my family demographics more closely parallel those of twenty and thirty-somethings, rather than my forty-something counterparts. I purchased my first home just a couple years ago, after renting here for 6 years. Upon arriving, I was the Young Lawyers’ Association’s representative to the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association, before later becoming the GTLA Bar’s President in 2016. I worked for a local firm for 3 years before starting my own practice 5 years ago. After buying a new Mastercraft in 2017, I feel like I’m essentially living the young professionals’ dream. And, that’s why I’m running for office: to do something to make life a little better for the next generation. I want to get them into home ownership earlier and at a lower price point. I want to reduce their costs for child care (even though I don’t need child care). And, I want their waterways to be as clean when they are retired as they are for today’s retirees.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
The biggest challenge arising from the pandemic has become getting everyone to work together. As a mediator, I am experienced at facilitating productive dialogue between disputing parties until they achieve self-resolution. I intend to put those skills to work to prevent the divisiveness of national politics from further infiltrating our local governments. If Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg learned not only how to work together but also how to be friends, then we can certainly expect our local officials to learn how to work together and treat each other like neighbors instead of partisans.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I am a small business owner myself; My Studio, which started as a hobby, has been my passion for fifteen years. The average shelf life of businesses of my kind is three to five years. I owe my longevity to two things: First, my ability to adapt and change course when necessary, and second, the fact that my business plan was created with the idea of creating a supportive community. When your client understands that their needs are your priority, then they invest in you as well.

I will approach my county commission seat the same way – community first. It is tough right now for small business owners surviving the pandemic. I understand the challenges the business community is faced with, because I am living it myself. One of my strengths is the ability to be creative in problem solving, and I believe that this strength will be a necessity going forward.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
Public health and safety; There are two aspects of this that I feel passionate about. The first is our law enforcement budget and its role in the overall health of our community. In 2004 when I lost a child in an auto accident due to a reckless driver on a busy and often congested stretch of road, I began to ask a lot of questions. I was advised then that existing budgets did not accommodate the number of road patrol deputies required to manage dangerous areas effectively. After her death, many more crashes followed in such local high traffic areas. In Fifteen years, we still have not added additional road patrol in spite of population growth. I find this concerning, as well as the dangerous traffic patterns created by infrastructure being outpaced by population growth. This concern will continue to grow as we attract more businesses and therefore more workers to our area.

And second, mental health. The pandemic response has created an overwhelming increase in mental health crises, due to the interruption of normal human interactions and even anxiety over the virus itself. We have been conditioned to be on the edge of our seats, anxious about what will happen next. It’s a terrifying way to live, and our mental health practitioners are seeing an exponential increase in those seeking services.

My second priority would be protecting Parks and natural resources: Our unique natural wonders are the reason many people come here to vacation and stay here to live and work. I did, almost 30 years ago! We have the responsibility to manage these resources effectively and keep them safe for the growth of the region and the enjoyment of future generations;

And last, I would make it a priority to promote respectful, objective, and effective dialogue when deliberating the issues that affect our community: We are seeing an increase in hostile communications at every level and this is concerning. Many entities are finding it difficult to be effective because of the ‘us vs them’ mentality. My contribution to the ongoing solution will be to pledge basic respect for others’ perspectives regardless of differing core beliefs. My personal philosophy is that most problems can be solved by effective communication and by fostering relationships of mutual respect between the parties who are discussing them.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
Collaborations between the County Commission and other taxing jurisdictions falls into two different categories:

The first category would be fellow municipalities that contribute to the County’s General Fund which would include the 13 townships and the 1 city that make up our county. We already have some excellent examples of collaborations. One would be the Community Police Officer program with the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department. Since law enforcement and the court system make up the largest percentage of the budget that the County Commissioners are in charge of, everyone benefits from this creative collaboration. Citizens have access to a community police officer in their neighborhood, and the township pays part of their salary directly to the County. Townships benefit from the large department that the County has, but only pay a fraction of the cost of running their own department. The County budget receives some extra funds towards its largest expenditure. Everyone wins. Another example of collaboration is the County’s Department of Public Works which brings together 6 townships to provide water and septic while avoiding duplication of services. We can create much more efficient services working together rather than separately. The County acting as a facilitator for these programs is an appropriate role to take. My vision for this particular group of tax jurisdictions would be to foster the collaborations we already have that are working, and to be open to future partnerships like these examples.

The second category would be tax exempt jurisdictions that don’t contribute directly to the County General Fund. Examples would be BATA, NMC, the Library, etc. Collaboration between these entities would include defining ways that the Board could help them be sure they are providing the best services possible to county residents with the limited resources available. Assisting these entities directly helps the overall budgets and keeps costs down and results in lower millage asks (which the County Board has to approve). Many of these have seats on their boards for a representative from the Board of Commissioners, and I would love to serve on one of them. This is an opportunity for our County Board to make a direct impact on policies and help them provide the best services possible.

Another point to consider is the importance of understanding the role of a County Commissioner and what we can actually do and not do. For instance, the County Board doesn’t really play a direct role in housing, as they have no County Planning Department or Planning Board and no mandated role in that. A more appropriate role to take in something like housing, would be one as facilitator (thinking of the Rural Housing Task Force) bringing together the entities that do have direct access to funding for those types of projects. The County has the unique position to be a collaborator with other public entities; private sectors as well as non profits. Being a Commissioner means having an open mind to envision what is possible and the desire to make things happen.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
Because I have the benefit of age and the wisdom that comes from my life experiences. I was raised in a rural poverty stricken southern town, and moved myself a thousand miles north to start a new life as a single working mom. I took business classes at NMC, while raising kids to value integrity and ambition, and my son is currently pursuing his own way in his chosen field. My daughter was the inspiration for my business. After she died, I began to teach the dance she loved, and that led me into the ownership of a dance studio that became an entity of its own. I feel as if I have a wealth of information that would be helpful to young professionals who need to be encouraged that they have what it takes to succeed. We all need a cheerleading section and advice now and then, and as a mom who has raised young professionals, I happen to specialize in both!

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
The response to Covid -19 resulted in the shut down of many businesses – most of them small, family owned establishments. This had the domino effect of cutting off tax revenues, which resulted in the loss of state revenue sharing programs. I foresee budget shortfalls that we didn’t expect going into this year, as well as the accompanying anxiety.

I have been in the position to start over again after a significant loss, and I know what it takes to heal and regain footing. I believe the County Board of Commissioners needs a member who understands what it takes to recover, as well as the ability to look at the big picture and offer creative solutions. I am exactly the person needed for this time.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I will not undermine efforts to recruit full-year businesses to the area and will work to make it easier to recruit employees to the area. At the commencement ceremony where I received my Doctor of Engineering hood, there were twelve candidates receiving doctoral degrees in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Two of us spoke English as a first language; the other English speaker was black. At professional society meetings in Operations Research and related fields, a very large number of women wear a hijab.

If my classmates and colleagues were to research a job opening in Traverse City, they would find out about the dis-invitation of an Imam for his role in a choral concert, the anti-Muslim statements of the Kalkaska Village President, the racist statements of the Leelanau Road Commissioner, and the invitation of Proud Boys from outside the county to bring forward and ultimately pass the firearm sanctuary resolution.

My classmates would see the Proud Boys and the firearm sanctuary resolution as a green light for armed protests in front of their place of worship—not an expression of liberty as the Proud Boys see it. They would certainly think twice about interviewing for the job; high tech businesses know that they will have a tough time recruiting employees to move to this area under these conditions.

The net present value of the negative publicity from that resolution probably negated the entire advertising budget for Traverse Connect this year, even though it only made the local news. The tail from that event will easily last a decade.

I will not undermine efforts to recruit full-year business to the area and will work to make it easier to recruit employees to the area.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
My top three priorities are tightly related: housing availability, land use, and transparency. I’ve done enough overnights at Safe Harbor to know that a full-time job does guarantee a place to sleep in Grand Traverse County.

I believe that the outward migration Michigan has experienced during my life will reverse, and that growth in Northern Michigan will be much faster than in the recent past. The housing shortage in the region will only get worse without major effort. Although I only returned to Michigan a little over two years ago, the 30 years I lived in Texas give me experience with rapid expansion that life-long residents of Grand Traverse County do not have. I’ve seen massive land-use mistakes and decisions that looked good at 2 million people, that don’t look so good at 6 million people.

The root problem in many of the poor decisions that I saw in Texas was a lack of transparency; the suburbs that gave everyone a seat at the table for zoning and development discussions ended up with much more livable communities with much more sustainable tax bases. It was sometimes messy, but the results were much better. Transparency means more and longer meetings so that everything is done in the open, but the results are much better.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
My vision IS collaboration. My big priority is housing and land use, but zoning is controlled by the City and the Townships. To maintain the wonderful community that we enjoy now will require cooperation between all entities on the way to a population of 200,000. Cooperative zoning is the only way that the region will develop in a way that we still like at 200,000 people.

The recent spiking of the Senior Center project is a prime example of the zero-sum game that is currently being played, complete with statistical lies on costs and use that ignored the value of the land that the City was contributing free of charge. This project needs to get done and it needs to get done in a collaborative way. The City could just do it by itself, which would leave County residents of Peninsula, Garfield, East Bay, and to a lesser extent Acme and Whitewater with no access to a Senior Center.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
I will vote to move meetings to the evening so that wage and salary workers can attend and run for office. Personally, mornings are better for me, but morning meetings make it difficult if not impossible for anyone with a salary or wage job to participate.

During the pandemic, I will push hard for infection control measures across the community so that we can keep some high-risk activities like schools and even some semblance of bars open. Child care for families and isolation for single adults are horrendous challenges that require some higher-risk gatherings. To facilitate this, we have to make the rest of the community very low risk. When I encounter a business not using masks, I report it to the health department, and I’ve encouraged others to do so as well. When “travel into or out of the area” infections after the Sturgis rally hit in August, we didn’t go into exponential growth. Though getting reported has angered some people, I think the resultant increase in mask use is a contributor to our ability to keep schools open.

I don’t know anything about child care, but I do know that the biggest lever on this problem is keeping schools open, and encouraging infection control measures is the best tool that we have to do that right now. Most people don’t see mask use a partial solution to the childcare problem, but I do.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
The biggest challenge from the pandemic is to facilitate social cooperation on a community scale. People won’t use local retailers unless they feel safe. To feel safe, they must be safe; feeling safe follows being safe—but it follows at a great distance. To be safe, we need widespread, visible infection control measures. There has been far too much focus on what we cannot do, and far to little on what we can do.

My role is to stand up to bullies, to listen carefully to people with whom I disagree and to call those whom no one else calls.

What do you want the business community to know about your candidacy?
I’ve been in business in a Traverse City for over 35 years. My grandparents moved to TC in 1947, I’m a third generation business owner in the county.

If elected, what would be your top three priorities? Please describe each priority.
Hire good people at the county.

Give them the tools and support they need to do their job right.

Provide direction, but stay out of their way.

Can you describe your vision for collaboration between the GT County Commission & other taxing jurisdictions?
It is our job to work out the differences as best we can. Always be cooperative with fellow governmental units. Provide support for townships/villages when we can, and be willing to find common ground with the city of TC.

Young Professionals: Why are you the preferred candidate for young professionals?
I take a long view on the issues. I’ve been watching these issues for decades, and want to leave things better for those coming up next. And I want younger people to get involved at all levels. This is going to be theirs longer that it will be those of us in our 50’s. We want their input.

The pandemic has impacted governments across the state. What do you see as the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic? What do you see as your role in the response to these challenges?
Our role is to get things safely back to normal as soon as possible.

All budgets are going to be tough the next few years. We need to get the economy back and keep a close eye on governmental budgets.

We need to look at all of the negative and positive aspects of our regulatory reactions to this and be balanced in our response.