2016-10-27 / Life in Leelanau

First-term commissioner faces challenge from lifelong resident

Patricia Soutas-Little, District 5 county commissioner and a Democrat, is facing opposition from Dale Schaub, who won the Republican Primary in August.

District 5 is comprised of Leland and Centerville Townships. Ms. Soutas-Little is completing her first term. A profile for the position of county commissioner can be found on Page 4 of this section.

Ms. Soutas-Little is president and CEO of Solira Labs and serves as chairperson of the Leelanau Early Childhood Development Commission, Blessings in a Backpack Rotary Fundraiser, First Michigan Women’s Conference Organizer, and president of the Suttons Bay-Leelanau County Rotary Club. Her memberships include the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Leland Chamber of Commerce and Lake Leelanau Community Association.

Mr. Schaub is a lifelong resident of the county. He has worked in construction, customer service and electricity for 41 years combined. Mr. Schaub and his wife, Karla, live in Lake Leelanau where they are members of St. Mary parish.

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We posed four questions to the candidates, allowing up to 75 words for their responses.

1. Should Leelanau County government help fund and promote child education programs or daycare?

SCHAUB: The federal government already does this. (ex. Head Start, Early Head Start, etc.) The federal Dept. of Education is responsible for this, the county would be duplicating services. As a fiscally responsible candidate this does not make sense. The taxpayers of this county already are paying a large percent of their federal and state taxes to provide this to the children of Leelanau county. We as a county cannot afford it.

SOUTAS-LITTLE: Every child should be given the best possible start that ensures they will have the skills needed to succeed in life. Over 25 percent of our kids in Leelanau are not ready to begin kindergarten. This impacts other students, increases education costs, and makes it difficult for those children to catch up with their peers. Leelanau County should advocate for and find ways to support quality early childhood programs, birth through age 5, for all families.

2. Leelanau County has a sizable fund balance and, compared to other county governments, a manageable debt for its retirement system. Given the county’s solid economic outlook, is it time for county government to expand services into other areas?

SCHAUB: Absolutely not. The county had unprecedented expenses this year. Such as updates to 911 emergency service, new hires, repair of law enforcement center, vehicle upgrades, vehicle servicing costing millions and millions of dollars. None of these items were budgeted. Unrestricted fund balances can not absorb these expenditures. The county still has a debt of $5 million on the jail, $5 to $8 million on pensions, and $2.5 million on phones, updates, and interest.

SOUTAS-LITTLE: Yes, we should consider service expansion while remaining within our mandated and non-mandated responsibilities. Residents pay their taxes and expect their money to provide services, not excessive fund balances. We need an adequate fund balance to ensure services would continue to be provided should another recession occur. Refocusing our program priorities, current program expenditures and supplementing select county department budgets slightly would allow expansion of services in areas desired by residents.

3. Recent meetings of local governments across the Peninsula, including county government, have included sizable time slots for discussion of the petroleum pipeline that crosses the Straits of Mackinac. Are discussions of issues that local governments have no authority to regulate an appropriate use of meeting time?

SCHAUB: No, this is not the venue for these discussions. A lot of county time, resources, and money were spent inappropriately. Also township time and resources were wasted. There are other venues available to these special interests groups, if they wish to discuss their agenda, the newspaper, educational meetings, social media, ad’s, etc... Let these special interest groups spend their time, money, and effort, not the tax payers. Many do not feel the same as these groups about the issues their promoting.

SOUTAS-LITTLE: When issues of concern to residents arise that potentially could impact our county in a major way, such as affecting our environment, economic well-being or health, residents should have the opportunity to bring these issues to their local governing bodies to discuss and gain information.

4. Are you familiar with — and what are your opinions of — the Michigan Open Meetings (OMA) Act and the state Freedom of Information Act?

SCHAUB: Yes I have studied both these laws, especially in light of my opponents apparent disregard for the OMA. I pledge to abide by all the laws of the constitution of Michigan, most importantly the OMA. To influences another commissioners vote outside of an open meeting is deplorable.

Even knowing there was enough evidence to bring this forward to be investigated, leaves me feeling very uncomfortable about my opponent’s integrity.

SOUTAS-LITTLE: The Michigan Open Meetings and Freedom of Information Acts are useful tools that make it easier for citizens to engage in the governmental process. We all benefit when discussion and actions take place in public meetings where input from members of the public is encouraged. Requiring public entities to provide the public with records and documents allows people to be more informed regarding decisions made by public bodies and in formulating decisions for themselves.

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