County Commission candidates debate issues at TDL
Tecumseh District Library invited the public to meet with the candidates for District 1 Lenawee County Commission for an informal town hall question-and-answer session Tuesday, Oct. 16. Incumbent County Commissioner David Stimpson (R) and challenger Gayle Keiser (D) took the opportunity to meet with community members in preparation for the runoff in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 6. District 1 of the County Commission grid includes the City of Tecumseh and Tecumseh Township and is a two-year term.
The two candidates began by introducing themselves and giving brief personal biographies. Detailed profiles appeared in the previous edition of The Tecumseh Herald, Thursday, Oct. 18. Both candidates have extensive public service résumés, business experience, and advanced post-graduate degrees. Not all of the questions from the hour-long event could be included, and some of the responses were too extensive to be quoted in full.
One of the questions from the audience was how the candidates “day jobs” have or would impact their performance as a county commissioner. The questioner noted that Stimpson is an attorney, and Keiser is a college professor.
Stimpson responded first. “One of the main things I do in my profession is resolve conflicts,” he said. “On the nine-member commission, it takes five members for a majority, so one of my functions has been to bridge gaps and look for common ground, and I have done the same thing for all of the many county departments that we oversee.”
Stimpson also explained that his experience as an attorney is valuable in commission meetings to avoid legal violations such as breaches of the Open Meetings Act.
In response to the question, Keiser cited her knowledge of political science, which she teaches, and its emphasis on public proceedings, including strict adherence to public meeting openness. She agreed that the Open Meeting Act is one of the cornerstones of keeping any governmental meeting above board, but said that the current board has had some lapses of propriety in that regard, citing the case involving the recent painting of the dome of the old county courthouse. “I’m aware of clear violations that I would not tolerate if I were on the board,” she said.
She also referred to 12 years of experience on an Illinois board of county commissioners. “Through my education and my experience, I’m familiar with the whole range of county functions,” she said. “I would be ready from day one to assume my duties.”
Another question from the audience involved what could be done to attract more business and industry to the county.
Both candidates were in agreement that attracting more business enterprises to Lenawee County would benefit the citizens through improved services and add to the crucial tax base that funds those services.
Stimpson credited area Downtown Development Authorities with doing a good job of fostering an attractive business atmosphere in the communities where they existed, along with the influence of local Economic Development Corporations.
Keiser said that encouraging a diversity of businesses was key to making an area attractive to newcomers. She used the example of Tecumseh as a community that has encouraged and sustained a variety of stores and services in the business districts, which have encouraged even more variety. “When I first came to Tecumseh, I was impressed with the diversity of specialty and hardware stores,” she said. “The atmosphere that it creates is of acceptance to new things and new entrepreneurs.”
Another audience member asked about the candidates’ priorities for the coming years, if elected.
Keiser said that the commission should schedule more strategic planning sessions and maintain a more professional atmosphere. “Technology needs to be upgraded,” she said. “Currently, we are hand-delivering paper documents from the prosecutor’s office to the sheriff’s office. That could be eliminated without undue expense, but I know that we need to operate within our means.” As an example of misguided spending she cited using the county’s rainy day fund for expenses. “When you’re spending from the rainy day fund, that’s deficit spending,” she said.
Stimpson reminded the audience that county funding has steadily declined since the recession began. “In spite of that, we have put the sheriff department back to its 2008 budget basis,” he said. He noted that due to the recession, the county lost revenue with declining home and property values along with the loss of sales tax income, which used to return to the county as revenue sharing from the state. He explained that the state is in financial straits, itself, adding further hardship to all counties and municipalities. “The county, nevertheless, still has a healthy fund reserve,” he said.
In closing remarks, both candidates praised the audience for its civic-mindedness and encouraged everyone to vote Nov. 6.