HOUGHTON - The League of Women Voters of the Copper Country conducted a forum Monday for candidates for the Portage Township Board of Trustees, and of the 12 candidates, four took part.
From the current board of trustees, Supervisor Bruce Petersen, Treasurer Carol Little and Trustee John Ollila took part in the forum in the auditorium of Houghton schools.
Current Trustees Peggy Anderson, Mark Jalkanen and James Zerbst declined to take part. Clerk Sandra Luoma was defeated in the August primary election.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Jill Burkland of the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country explains how the LWVCC Portage Township Board of Trustees candidate forum will work Monday in the Houghton schools auditorium as Portage Township Supervisor Bruce Petersen looks on.
Of the opponents, supervisor candidate Mike Wilmers, and trustee candidates Bill Bingham, Andrew Kemper and Jonathan Stone did not attend.
Treasurer candidate Quincy Higgins Arney did take part in the forum.
Jill Burkland of the LWVCC opened the program explaining that questions would come written on cards from the approximately 60 audience members, which would be brought to the stage for LWVCC President Fredi De Yampert to ask the candidates. The LWVCC had some questions they asked all candidates, also.
Candidates had one minute for an opening remark, one minute to answer each question asked of them and one minute for a closing remark.
Petersen began with his opening remarks. He said he had six years experience working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and about 32 years experience with the United States Department of Agriculture working locally on the Torch Lake Superfund Site.
Petersen said when he was appointed supervisor by the board of trustees about two years ago, he inherited many issues, including worn-out equipment, a bad audit and the seizure by the state of the township tax rolls and the Valley View Quarry situation, which involved the location of a quarry operation in an area zoned rural residential.
Here are some of the questions asked to Petersen and some of his responses.
Q: What is the role and responsibility of the supervisor?
A: "I have to physically represent the township. I have to review our purchases. I have to watch out for the health and welfare of our residents."
Q: What background and strengths make you the right person for supervisor?
A: "I had 32 years experience with the USDA working on environmental resources." He said he had oversight of many design projects in hydrology, forestry and working with various units of government.
"I have a lot of experience that bodes well for (the supervisor) position."
Q: A master plan for the township is being put together now. How important is a master plan?
A: "That's the baseline for all zoning and planning for the township. We need to get a sense of place with our master plan. What do the residents value?"
Q: Do you support the Pilgrim River Watershed Project, which would set aside 1,382 acres of forest land for recreation and timber use?
A: "Yes, I do. We're no longer in the smokestack industry. We're now in the 'thinkstack' industry."
Petersen said the township needs to be able to draw professional people who want recreational opportunities in the place they live, and the Pilgrim River Watershed Project will provide those opportunities.
"It's a tremendous draw. I think it's great deal."
Q: Did you vote yes on the Valley View Quarry consent decree?
A: Petersen said the board was told by its attorney if they didn't bring the issue of the operation of the quarry to court, the board would be sued by residents who objected to its operation. In circuit court in Houghton, the board prevailed in its suit against the quarry.
"We won on all those points."
Because of the passage of House Bill 4746 in July 2011, which allows mining to take place almost anywhere in Michigan, Petersen said the board of trustees decided to reach an agreement with quarry owners over its operation.
"I voted for it."
Q: How many grants have you applied for?
A: "A good preponderance of my time has been spent on Valley View Quarry. Now, we are looking at possible grants for the Houghton-to-Chassell recreational trail. We got grants from the DNR for the restrooms at the Hurontown recreation area. In the future, I would like to pursue more grants."
Q: Should a board member recuse him or herself from voting if he or she or a family member has a conflict of interest with a particular vote?
A: "When you feel you might have a conflict, you must take that step."
Next to take part were current Treasurer Carol Little and candidate Quincy Higgins Arney.
Little said she has lived in the township 13 years, and has been treasurer for six years.
"I've gotten to know a lot more people in the township."
Arney said she's lived in the township since 1999. She explained her philosophy of government.
"My principle lies with the founding fathers. I believe government should be held accountable."
Little was first to answer questions.
Asked what the role of the treasurer was, Little said the treasurer is responsible for the monitoring of township funds, including taxes, revenue sharing and water and sewer fees. The treasurer also oversees the township investments.
Arney said although she's learning the role of the treasurer, she does have an understanding of it.
"I understand the responsibility of collecting the funds and managing the investments."
Arney said she understands the treasurer has to work with the board of trustees to distribute the funds.
"Fund accounting is something I'm learning about. I enjoy doing research."
Q: What is your background and experience that makes you qualified to be treasurer?
Arney answered first.
A: "As a student, I'm vigorous in my studies."
Arney said she manages her family finances, and she can learn about the software needed for the job quickly.
"I have the ability to stay objective. I'm articulate and a very good writer."
Little said she has six years doing the township treasurer job.
"I implemented the software we're now using. I feel I have a good relationship with the township residents."
Q: How do you feel about the new accounting software?
A: Little said she's already using the new bookkeeping software.
"I'm also aware of the accounting software."
Arney said she isn't familiar with the township's software, but she will learn it fast.
"I'm looking forward to having training with the software. I'm not daunted at all by the prospect of learning new software."
Q: What do you think are the crucial issues with the master plan?
Arney said she has seen the master plan, and intends to attend a meeting about it.
"It just felt generic. I didn't relate to it as a resident."
Little said changes in the township mean the master plan needs to be changed.
"I think it's time to update our master plan. Our township is growing. Our township is changing."
Little said more residents need to be part of the process to develop the master plan.
The master plan should include getting wireless Internet in the township.
"That would be a big help to the township."
Q: How can government be more transparent?
Little replied first.
"Our board meetings are open to the public. Our minutes are open to the public. Anybody can ask me a question. I have never hidden anything from the public. I don't know if there's anything that needs to be corrected."
Arney said using the Internet could help with transparency.
"Transparency could be greatly increased by putting documents online."
Arney said maybe documents could be distributed by email, also.
In her closing remarks, Arney said she's concerned about excessive government control.
"I want to keep taxpayer dollars where it belongs, and that's in your pocket."
Little said she appreciated being asked to the forum, and she urged people to vote Nov. 6.
"If you don't vote, it's your fault if something goes wrong sometimes."
Next up was Trustee Ollila.
In his opening remarks, he outlined his experience.
"I have been an integral part of the board for the last four years. We have been resolute and honest."
Q: What is the responsibility of the trustee?
A: "It often depends on the committee you're on."
Ollila said the trustees have to become informed on all the issues the township faces.
Q: How does your background and experiences make you qualified for the trustee position?
A: "I am a local person. I am a retired high school math and science teacher and a retired college teacher. I was in the Peace Corps. I have a photographic memory for text."
Q: Do you have any conflicts of interest for enforcing zoning ordinances?
A: "No. I'm the rare person who has no relatives on planet Earth. No family member can benefit from any decisions I make."
Although he has property in the Pilgrim River Watershed, Ollila said he's donating it to the project.
"I have never made a vote on it."
Ollila said he supports the Pilgrim River Watershed Project, and he's a member of Trout Unlimited, one of the partners in the project.
Q: What is the most pressing issue for the master plan?
A: "Green Acres Road and the road through Dodgeville are the only areas in the township zoned industrial. Keeping open areas is important for the township. The master plan must address future industrial possibilities."
People who move here move for the open spaces and quiet, Ollila said.
Q: How could the possibility of future mining impact the township?
A: "I guess not much."
There are no areas in the township where copper could be mined, he said.
"I'm not sure the technology exists to do hard rock under where people are."
Q: How long have you been a registered voter in the township?
A: He said he's been voting in the township about 40 years.
"I have voted in every election here except when I was in the Peace Corps in Malaysia."