“Meet the Commissioner Candidates” Continues: Republican Incumbent & Roster Of Democrats Vie For Spot Serving District 7
By Emily Tyra | June 8, 2022
Nineteen candidates over seven districts are in the running for the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, with the primary election up first on August 2 and the general election set for November 8.
Several new Democratic challengers are seeking the chance to run against District 7’s incumbent, Republican Melinda Lautner, who has led as a county commissioner for over 25 years and currently acts as the board’s vice-chairman.
Read on as the Leelanau Ticker helps voters get to know the each of the District 7 candidates. (Also check out the first round of “Leelanau, Meet Your Commissioner Candidates,” highlighting Districts 1, 3 and 5, and stay tuned next week for the final installment!)
Melinda Lautner, Cedar
Party: Republican, incumbent
Background: I grew up on a cherry farm in Grand Traverse county, graduated St. Francis High School and attended Northwestern Michigan College. Jim Lautner and I have been married for nearly forty years. Together we have four grown children and seven wonderful grandchildren. We live on, own and operate Jim’s family farm, part of which was homesteaded 1867. I grow a large truck garden which I sell in my two seasonal farm markets.
Why I’m running: I am running for re-election because I feel that I bring balance, and thoughtful perspective to the board. My agricultural background has taught me how to work hard. I bring that work ethic to every meeting. I am not afraid to make the tough decisions. My voting record proves that, and I can find solutions that are outside the box, which has saved the county thousands of dollars.
What my district needs most: My district needs and wants most to have a safe community and an affordable county to live in. They want and deserve a financially and an environmentally healthy county. The largest demand has been for access to fast and reliable internet service which is why I am supporting Leelanau’s plan for bringing internet coverage to all of our county in the next couple of years.
Leelanau must figure out...Leelanau has got to figure out if it wants to grow. If we do, then we must figure out how to do that. We have to juggle home ownership versus Airbnb's and all this entails. Fortunately, through good leadership we are a very healthy county financially. Our residents shouldn’t have to see any tax increases at the county level for a long time.
Mary O’Neill, Cedar
Background: My family started La Becasse restaurant in 1979, and I have been working and living in the area off-and-on since, becoming a resident permanently in 2008 when I moved to Burdickville to run my sister’s shop, Laker Shakes, which I did for two years. A District 7 homeowner since 2015, I became involved in township politics by attending planning commission, township board and parks committee meetings and establishing Friends of Solon Township on Facebook, and most recently, Friends of Kasson Township. I serve on the Solon Parks Committee and on the Solon Zoning Board of Appeals. I raised my daughter by myself; worked as a writer and did voice-over talent for TV and radio commercials. [An artist/inventor,] I create art and everyday utilitarian objects from single-use, post-consumer plastic bags and packaging. I have also won the Suttons Bay Art Fair Poster Contest and the Empire Asparagus Poetry Contest.
Why I’m running: I have grown increasingly frustrated by and disappointed in local leadership and have decided that after 26 years of Melinda Lautner as county commissioner for District 7, it’s time for a change. This county is rapidly changing. With the national and international focus on our beaches and beauty, we should be bracing ourselves for a tsunami of uber-wealthy non-local entities purchasing properties as investments. In fact, it is already happening. We need to be working with local townships to create policies to make our county less attractive to the investment world through zoning and short-term rental ordinances.
What my district needs most: Like all of Leelanau, we are facing an affordable housing crisis for local families. I will support existing affordable housing initiatives as well look for creative solutions to help increase housing options. We must look at what other communities like ours are doing to help keep their local, year-round residents in affordable homes.
Leelanau must figure out...Preserving our water is by far the most important issue facing Leelanau County. Michigan and Leelanau are smack in the middle of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water. We have countless inland lakes and rivers, yet, neither the State of Michigan nor Leelanau County has a septic ordinance. This is immoral. Our water is what attracts people here and why we live here. We drink it, bathe in it, swim in it, and water our crops with it. Most homes and businesses rely on septic systems. Yet, we have no way of knowing if these are operating correctly. Many are old, in bad need of repair and are leaking into our lakes and streams and into neighboring properties. The fact that we do not have a septic ordinance should outrage every Leelanau County resident.
Allison Zimpfer, Maple City
Background: I have deep roots in the Midwest. I was born in the Hoosier state and lived in Oregon for 5 years, following a year in Northern Michigan after college. I earned my graduate degree in social work and moved back to Indiana, where I spent 10 years practicing in my chosen field and feeling more and more drawn to Leelanau County. I’m a licensed master’s level clinical social worker and have been fortunate to partner with individuals and families in a variety of settings—child welfare, emergency shelter, outpatient, and school for almost 20 years. I have also had the privilege of generous mentorship in the field of public health.
Why I’m running: I am proudly running alongside three other Democratic primary candidates and will eagerly and strongly support whomever is chosen to run against Melinda Lautner. I am running because District 7 is changing; we require new leadership to support and respond to the needs and demands of our neighbors. I believe that when my neighbors do well, everyone benefits. When our district does well we contribute to a vibrant and livable county. And a Leelanau County wherein people’s experiences are listened to and their basic needs are ensured is one where it is possible to thrive.
What my district needs most: Affordable housing and livable wages.
Leelanau must figure out…How we can ensure the people who live, work, learn, and age in our county have the means to do so.
Julie Kradel, Cedar
Background: I grew up on a second-generation family farm, that initially was a 50 head dairy farm, then raised Hereford cattle and chickens. My love for farm-life continued into adulthood, raising my three children on a hundred-acre centennial farm. While raising my children, I was active in many aspects of 4-H, including teaching and leadership roles. After establishing myself as an artist specializing in clay sculpture, I moved permanently to Leelanau County in 2009 to a 20-acre horse farm, where I continue to enjoy farm-life as well as further pursuit of my work as an artist. My desire for serving on boards began with serving one year as president of the 4-H Horse Council. And most recently on the Suttons Bay Art Fair Committee for seven years, three years as president.
Why I’m running: My involvement in local politics began three-years ago with the Solon Township land-use issue. Like many Solon and Kasson Township residents, I am frustrated by the representation at the local levels, County Commissioner and Township. Leelanau County is changing, it is time for elected persons to reflect that change. Growth is coming, it is important to make a plan, not put your head in the sand pretending that it’s not going to happen. I want to help be that change, not holding us to the limits of ‘tradition’ or ‘that's how it’s always been done.’
What my district needs most: Coordinating the growth that is needed for affordable housing, while also considering the impact on the wildlife and landscape of Leelanau County. In this volatile political landscape, I believe that it’s more important than ever for us to work together to keep the agricultural beauty and integrity of Leelanau County while moving forward into the new landscape of growth.
Leelanau must figure out…So much depends on the lakes, not only for drinking water, but for the tourist industry that is intricate to so many for their livelihood. Everything is interconnected. The water needs to be clean, which is threatened by the many failing septic systems in Leelanau County. A plan needs to be implemented to address this issue, not after the fact when our precious natural resources become contaminated.
Nancy Joan Flanagan, Cedar
Background: I’m a retired music teacher—30+ years in the same downstate district (Hartland). I was Michigan’s Teacher of the Year in 1993, an experience that expanded my knowledge of how policy impacts practice. I now enjoy playing with local musicians and groups across the Grand Traverse region, and work as Music Director at Trinity UCC Church in Northport. In fact, Kama Ross (running for County Commissioner in District 5) and I play in the Leelanau Flute Ensemble together!
Why I’m running: I’ve been a property owner in Cedar since 1987, although we didn’t move here full-time until 2010. So I’ve been observing local politics for 35 years—the tension between those who don’t want to see anything change, and those who understand that change is coming, and the best strategies are to get out ahead of it, for the benefit of EVERYONE who lives in District 7. When we moved here, my husband and I were both running businesses that depended on fast, reliable internet—which was completely unavailable to us. Figuring out why opportunities to increase broadband access were denied by the County Commission got me interested in politics.
What my district needs most: Affordable housing—and not just temporary workforce housing. We need a mix of year-round rentals and ownership. This is important for District 7, where property can be less expensive than lakeside communities. Well-priced housing will also draw young families, supporting our public schools and building present and future businesses, as well as increasing age diversity—a real issue for Leelanau County. Childcare options and early childhood programming, for the same reasons. Climate-focused policies: Renewable energy options—clean and green. Continued support for recycling (including educating, monitoring, and landscaping, where necessary). An open, nonpartisan forum where District 7 residents can speak to their Commissioner about the issues that impact them most.
It might be an unpopular opinion, but…Leelanau County can do a much better job of welcoming everyone into paradise. Diversity is what makes communities stronger, more resilient and welcoming—diversity in age and income levels, diversity in beliefs and strengths, as well as racial and ethnic diversity.
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