Leelanau, Meet Your County Commissioner Candidates (Round 1!)
By Emily Tyra | June 1, 2022
Nineteen candidates over seven districts are vying for a position on the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, with the primary election up first on August 2 and the general election set for November 8. Commissioners are elected by district every two years.
With incumbents Debra Rushton (District 2) and Patricia Soutas-Little (District 5) opting out of the county commission race, several new challengers are seeking seats. Read on as the Leelanau Ticker helps voters get to know the slate of candidates. And stay tuned next week for the next round.
Rick Robbins, Traverse City
Party: Republican, incumbent
Background: I am a fourth-generation resident of Grand Traverse and Leelanau County for over 50 years. I have worked my family’s farm, served as a local first responder with the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office, managed a small business and served the multi-county legal community.
Why I’m running: I would like to serve another term to follow through on some things we’ve started. One of my goals was to bring both parties together, and we are making headway but still have far to go to be more nonpartisan and open minded on our decision-making.
What my district needs most: My district is the smallest — it’s half a township and part of it is a city — we have a lot of the infrastructure the rest of the county doesn’t have. Affordable housing is what this county needs. New Waves [development on Bugai Road] is a start.
Leelanau must figure out...With inflation, we don’t know what’s going to happen, so we need to stay in our budget and keep taxes as low as we can. Continue with expanding broadband: Empire didn’t get covered with this first phase. We need housing for the workforce. We need to stay on top of environmental issues…and keep out invasive species as much as we can. We need a board that is nonpartisan and makes decisions for the people not so much for the party.
Jamie Kramer, Traverse City
Background: I am a Northern Michigan local who boomeranged back from NYC over a decade ago. I've spent time in the media as a reporter, television host, morning radio personality (some may remember me from the Jack O'Malley morning show), but most recently as an entrepreneur. I'm the founder of Beyond Forests, a protected forest space for those who choose cremation where people can choose to be spread under a memorial tree or a field of wildflowers. My biggest accomplishment is being a Mom and wife. I have two amazing kiddos ages 1 and 9 and a super supportive husband who is also my campaign manager.
Why I’m running: I'm tired of explaining to my children why people in politics aren't acting like adults. I'd really like to get back to a place where we are talking with one another across the aisle, setting egos aside and, perhaps even listening. I spend a lot of time contemplating death and I'm constantly reminded of how short our trip on this planet actually is and why our choices now need to be our legacy.
My district needs: Affordable housing. Some sort of septic ordinance, because you know...poop. Seriously though, we live in a freshwater haven and we are the only state in the U.S. that doesn't have a [statewide] septic ordinance?
It might be an unpopular opinion, but... I think we can come up with solutions that solve our problems by thinking creatively. For instance, instead of trying to get rid of short-term rentals, why don't we charge Airbnbs a fee and then pass those funds on to workforce and affordable housing solutions like Peninsula Housing? 13 million is spent in Leelanau alone. If we charged 10 percent, that would be $1.3 million per year for housing. It's not going to fix everything but at least it's a start.
Lois Bahle, Suttons Bay
Party: Democrat, incumbent
Background: I am a 4th generation resident of Suttons Bay. I have served on the Suttons Bay Village Planning Commission and the Leelanau County Planning Commission; I was a founding member of the Leelanau Trail, now part of the TART trail system; I currently serve as the Chair of the Leelanau Housing Action Committee, Leelanau County Solid Waste Council, Leelanau Energy and I am on the Rotary Board. My experiences give me a wide variety of experiences that are useful in County government.
Why I’m running: I hope to have a grasp of the working of County government over the next few months as a result of the recall election and will be ready to continue my service after the November election.
What my district needs most: Housing is the universal need in Leelanau County. Accessible housing for young families with kids in our schools, rental homes for first time home owners and lots of rental apartments for workers in our communities and even seniors that are looking to downsize into an age in place home. We have a severe shortage of housing at every turn.
Leelanau must figure out… How to enact a septic inspection ordinance. Heavy development on our lake frontage and along streams along with high lake levels threatens our clean water. We should start with inspections at time of transfer and work with the Health Department on best practice. This issue has been repeatedly discussed since 1994 when I served on a committee making a first recommendation.
Doug Rexroat, Lake Leelanau
Background: I have spent my entire life in Leelanau County, except a few years after Jozell and I were married. My passion for the county is forged by a childhood in my father's orchards, who was a factory worker by day, and as the brother to five sisters helping run the family farm. My ancestry on my mother's side (Schaub) dates back to some of the earliest European settlers in the county. I am grateful that most of my five children and eight of my grandchildren reside in the county. The rest hope to move back here. I am the owner and CFO of an electrical contracting firm for over 20 years. With the incredible support of my wife, Jozell, we have and will continue to be involved with numerous charitable and volunteer organizations supporting local and global communities.|
Why I’m running: I am running because I care about Leelanau County. I believe our responsibility and moral obligation is to give back to our community. I have no political aspirations; I am running out of a sense of duty to those who came before me and made it possible for me to raise my family in this county. My business management, finance experience, and deep history in this county equip me with the tools necessary to serve the citizens of District 3.
What my district needs most: Affordable housing in Leelanau County is at a critical stage. We need to find ways to work with our townships, stakeholders, and businesses to address this pressing need. We need real innovative and collaborative solutions for our community. Keeping property taxes low is critical to this endeavor.
Leelanau must figure out… Leelanau County has recently experienced a rapid influx of new residents from all over the country and increased housing demands and pricing. This is natural considering the incredible beauty of the area and the available remote work opportunities. We have to figure out how to balance the impact of these increases while still providing opportunities for young people and families that contribute to a thriving workforce and our local schools and are critical to maintaining the future vibrancy of our community. We must strive to preserve the character of Leelanau County.
Kama Ross, Cedar
Background: After receiving my forestry degree from Michigan State University, I served as a Peace Corps Forestry/Environmental Education Volunteer in Paraguay. Back in the states, I served as the Leelanau County 4-H Program Assistant, then enjoyed stints with the DNR, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, several Conservation Districts and rural libraries, the 4-H Kettunen Center and MSU Extension. I returned to Leelanau in 2013 and retired last October as the Forestry Assistance Program Forester for Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse Conservation Districts. I have enjoyed my varied career as an outdoor and environmental educator, helping all ages connect with the natural world and inspiring everyone to be an observant and pro-active steward. I live just north of Cedar and have three grown children spread from coast to coast.
Why I’m running: I am a conservationist at heart, and I want to help conserve and restore a sense of common purpose, and inspire others within the community to better address our most daunting concerns. I want to be a part of helping all Leelanau County residents continue to thrive. As your District Forester, I had the extreme pleasure and privilege of being invited to landowners’ properties to listen to their goals and concerns one-on-one, hike their beautiful forests and fields that they were so proud to share and then help them answer questions they had about being a good land steward. It was wonderful work and I’d like to model that way of problem-solving as a county commissioner — to be a part of a bright, resilient and sustainable future for all.
What my district needs most: District 5 needs to elect a new commissioner that takes their role as an active community member very seriously. I will center my efforts on relationships and building person-to person connections as I share my message of service. A resilient community begins with offering yourself to serve those around you.
Leelanau must figure out…I want to help county government, local businesses, area nonprofit organizations, our schools and all our residents collaborate and creatively face our concerns as we build and support resilient communities – a county with affordable housing, quality childcare, strong broadband and cell service, and protection for our natural resources and public health as more people migrate permanently to our community.
Michael Allen Taylor, Cedar
Background: My thirty years’ experience in urban planning with the City of Sarasota, Florida (1982-2012) includes conducting problem solving gatherings with local citizen, developer and special interest groups over a wide range of issues. I also managed development review, brownfield redevelopment, capital improvement budgeting, zoning code, comprehensive planning, cultural/historical/environmental resources and art in public places. My professional certifications include: Certified Public Manager, American Institute of Certified Planners and Certified Public Pension Trustee.
Why I’m running: Partisanship has no place in local government. The current dynamic in Leelanau County makes a good case for nonpartisan local elections. I am an independent thinker. My voting decisions will be based on what I believe are clearly stated goals of the county and the best interest of my constituents.
What my district needs most: Skilled workers are needed to provide services for an ever-growing retiree and seasonal population. Attracting and retaining the best employees and their families requires livable wages, attainable housing, great schools, reliable childcare, outstanding health care, dependable public safety (sheriff and fire/rescue).
Leelanau must figure out: The place we know as Leelanau County has been created by nature and by the men and women who have been here before us. The place we know as the Leelanau County will become a different place in the course of our lifetimes. We will shape this place by the way we preserve — or spoil — our resources, by our choice of where and how to build, and by the small decisions we make as we live here.
Alan Campbell, Lake Leelanau
Background: Newspaper reporter, publisher and owner for more than 40 years. Participation in civic organizations and causes that include providing scholarships to students, fishing opportunities for youths and outdoor enjoyment for physically challenged people. Proud of my wife, Debra, who was co-publisher of the Leelanau Enterprise until we sold the newspaper in 2018; and son Cody, who is a St. Mary graduate and just graduated from NMC with a degree in applied construction science in electrical.
Why I’m running: First off, I’m not trying to change the world. I’m a believer in efficient governance, and if the residents of Leland and Centerville elect me, I hope to contribute toward that outcome. I’ve watched and opined — appreciative and critical — on the workings of local governments in Leelanau County. Now I would like to contribute by becoming a public servant.
What my district needs most: There’s the usual list of challenges ranging from affordable housing to childcare, which can become lightning rods for controversy. Frankly, given the extreme differences in financial means inherent to the district, there are no sure-fire or simple answers to the complex social problems faced every day by residents. Perhaps it’s time to put down our political differences — especially on national issues beyond the control of local government — while we find ways to work in a positive direction.
It might be an unpopular opinion, but…It’s usually a waste of time trying to change someone’s mind on politics. Better to seek out goals we have in common, then work toward the positive to accomplish them. As divided as we are as a country, we still can see eye-to-eye on most aspects of our community.
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