2016-10-27 / Life in Leelanau

Two-term commissioner, business owner faces retired educator

District 2 Commissioner

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners sets policy for county government, adopts and monitors an annual budget, sets fees for county services, and contracts for a yearly audit of all county funds.

Commissioners also may appoint other boards and commissions, adopt ordinances, buy land for county use and sell county-owned property, and enter into contracts and agreements.

Commissioners are elected on a partisan ballot to serve 2-year terms.

In Leelanau, commissioners receive $5,000 per year plus a per diem of $70 for full day meetings or $40 for half day meetings. The County Board chair receives a higher salary at $7,700 per year, plus the per diem previously listed.

Commissioners are also eligible for health and life insurance, as well retirement system compensation.

In the Leelanau County commission race, District No. 2 incumbent Deb Ruston, a Republican, is being challenged by Democratic nominee Dana "Sam" Getzinger. The seat represents northern Elmwood and southern Bingham townships.

Ms. Rushton, a two-term commissioner, is a business owner and retired Level II firefighters/emergency medical technician. She and her husband, Gary, have five children and several grandchildren.

Ms. Getzinger is a retired, award-winning teacher. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education. She is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

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

1. Was the agreement reached by Leelanau County and Elmwood Township for upgrades to the county-run recyling site at the old township fire hall fair to both governments?

GETZINGER: No. Elmwood received $11,000 for repairs from Leelanau County. The repairs/ upgrades cost about $83,000. Every household in Leelanau County pays a tax for recycling. Elmwood has the largest population and therefore contributes larger amounts to the County. The Board of Commissioners just offered $25,000 to Solon to upgrade its recycling center — over twice what was given to Elmwood.

RUSHTON: My suggestion to compensate all recycle site hosts was adopted. Elmwood seemed comfortable signing a new contract knowing they would recoup their investment over time. However, other sites are receiving full funding for re-beautification and Elmwood may now feel unfairly treated. The Solid Waste policy allows for funding functionality not re-beautification. Authorized use of P.A. 69 funds should be specific, defined and equally distributed for functionality to each site.

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 service into other areas?

GETZINGER: Before any expansion of services is considered, the commission needs to look at a long term plan that takes into account major cash needs, like the emergency communications project, sheriff’s office HVAC project, and MERS requirements, in relation to fund balances, including that which is in the DTRF. The plan should identify needs and resources beyond the two year term of commissioners.

RUSHTON: Commissioners asked for a Capital Improvement Plan to address the needs of the county. Each year the commission will identify what improvements, programs or expansions will be funded, while focusing on debt reduction.

In 2016, problems were eliminated at the Law Enforcement Center when $1.5 million was allocated for a new HVAC system and commissioners approved a $3.5 million dollar countywide Smart 9-1-1 program to improve emergency communication for our citizens without increased taxation.

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?

GETZINGER: Yes. County and township boards, as elected representatives, have every right and responsibility to adopt resolutions that express the will of their citizens to other governing bodies that have direct authority to regulate an issue. Resolutions have been used since the 1700s to call for action from the state or federal government in matters of community interest. The time at the last board meeting was extended by the commissioners.

RUSHTON: Citizens have the opportunity to address the County Board on any issue during public comment. Commissioners have the ability to request an issue be placed on the agenda for board discussion and consideration.

However, once an issue has been considered and it is determined the governing body has no jurisdiction, interested parties should take their specific issue to the appropriate authority for resolution and allow boards to move forward on issues under their authority.

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

GETZINGER: Yes. Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act has a big weakness — the legislature and governor’s office are exempted. In September the House passed several bills to remedy this issue. The vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan, so one hopes the Senate will act as well. Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, which requires that all public bodies do their decision making at meetings open to the public, is a good law and a cornerstone of transparency in government.

RUSHTON: These acts are laws put in place to protect “we the people” from government mischief, criminal acts or violations of rights. The actions, conversations and writings of government representatives are subject to the acts for transparency of government business. Citizens have the right to know how and what their representatives are doing in government short of national security secrets. Every commissioner attends commissioner training before they take the oath of office schooled on these acts.

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