BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Last week, local voters took to the polls and absentee voting to give the nod to their candidates in the City of the Village of Clarkston, Independence Township, and Springfield Township.
When all was said and done, most incumbents were re-elected, save for one change with the Board of Trustees in Springfield Township as Jason Pliska was voted into office.
In Clarkston, Eric Haven was elected to his second two-year term, defeating write-in candidate Cory Johnston 358-83 with 11 voters choosing another write-in and 214 not making a selection.
Of the 858 registered voters in the village, 666 voted (77.6 percent). Compared to the 2018 general election, these numbers were up as there were 821 registered voters two years ago with 548 voting. This year, 251 voted in person and 415 voted absentee.
Sue Wylie (361 votes), Joe Luginski (267), and Al Avery (254) were re-elected to two-year city council seats and Gary Casey (278) and Ed Bonser (256) were elected to one-year council seats.
Write-in candidate Steven McLean (86 votes) was not elected, and current council member Jason Kneisc was not running in this election rotation. There were 11 write-ins for the two-year council spots and 13 for the one-year seats.
“What a year 2020 has been, culminating most recently in the Nov. 3 election,” Haven said. “From villages to the U.S. presidency, record turnouts evidenced great public interest in the outcomes. Clarkston was no exception with 77.6 percent registered voter participation. That responsiveness made the results so worthwhile to very tired election workers. Thank you to all residents who voted, and I must recognize those who served in the brand-new Clarkston City Hall precinct to carefully enable our voting. Along with City Manager Jonathan Smith and City Clerk Jennifer Speagle were Toni Smith, Nancy Smith, Joseph Deschaine, Cara Catallo, Clare Catallo, Monica McGraw, Lisa Patercsak, and Evelyn Bihl.
“I was gratified by the overwhelming support our citizens expressed in their current city council.”
Haven said voter support also indirectly evidenced confidence in the collective work of the city’s Planning Commission, Historic District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Friends of Depot Park and Historic District Study Committee over the past two years.
“The council, commissions and committees work in harmony to support our community values, preserving everything good about Clarkston: our people, our homes and businesses, our heritage and our environment,” Haven said. “Our country may be divided over many issues in these challenging days, but there is home and harmony in Clarkston, clearly – and quantifiably – expressed in this election.
“Elections are the culmination of a campaign but more importantly the commencement of future plans. Last week, I received from the Friends of Depot Park concept drawings for adding quality amenities to Depot Park – picnic pavilions, ADA pathways, benches, rain gardens, and, hopefully someday, a concert pavilion and boardwalk along Henry Ford’s mill race leading to Deer Lake Beach. All these are soon to be reviewed by our city council.”
Council members also said they are eager to keep working on issues with the city.
“I have three priorities I will champion as a council member – traffic calming of our main roads, mainly Holcomb Road and Main Street, supporting the work of our Historic District Commission, and supporting our thriving downtown businesses,” said Bonser. “We’ve had too many close calls with vehicle accidents, distracted drivers, and speeding. Our residents and visiting pedestrians should have the confidence to safely walk our streets. Working closely with our skillful Planning Commission and village government will make this happen.
“I believe the renovation of our residence on Main Street is an excellent example of how with proper planning, coordination, and education, our historical character can be preserved while modernizing our houses. Preserving the historical nature of Clarkston is an endeavor worth investing in.
“Walking to and shopping at our unique boutiques and restaurants makes me cherish the symbiotic relationship. We can balance the growth of business with the needs and safety of our residents. Specifically, I will work to bring the farmers market back to the village proper.”
Avery said he sees the biggest challenge to the city is keeping city spending in line with what he expects will be a reduction in revenue in the upcoming year, and the biggest priority right now is to resolve the Susan Bisio case surrounding the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Wylie agreed with her counterparts.
“The city’s finances should be our biggest priority,” Wylie said. “In recent years, paid parking revenue benefitted Clarkston, but because of the pandemic, that revenue stream stopped in March 2020. City officials must be more vigilant than ever to watch expenditures and prepare for possible future loss of revenue streams from the state. Clarkston recently had to commit to paying for repairs to the regional sewer system. Because our sewer fund does not have sufficient funds, the city had to juggle some money between the sewer and water funds, and eventually homeowners will have to pay higher sewer fees to replenish the account. Also, the final cost of the Bisio lawsuit is not known. We on council will have to find the funds to pay that. Council must carefully consider all city expenditures as we negotiate these issues.
“City officials must also be cognizant and responsive to the hardships imposed by the pandemic on residents and local businesses and their employees. Because of these hardships, I am advocating any help the city can provide for retail and restaurants, including short-term shutting down of streets and parking lots to provide safe, distanced seating for restaurant patrons. I am also supporting a social district in downtown Clarkston to further encourage safe options for customers who patronize Clarkston and to ease the financial struggles that all local businesses suffer.”
Haven also stepped up with comments on the Bisio lawsuit regarding the FOIA issue that has been ongoing for more than five years. Bisio recently commented on her ClarkstonSecrets.com website costs due to her are nearing $300,000.
“There has been no attempt at concealing any so-called ‘secrets’ in Clarkston city government,” Haven said. “Every council member and city official is committed to total transparency. At no time were any documents concealed which were not lower-court authorized until the particular FOIA issue was heard before the Michigan Supreme Court. The 18 documents in question were then released, never viewed by any city official before their recent release. City leadership trusted our city attorney in the disposition of these documents. Our trust was vindicated by the innocuous nature of these documents, no ‘smoking gun,’ actually pretty boring. They were retained on principle, not content. I hope this further explanation helps. If we, your elected city officials and city employees were any more transparent, we would be invisible. I am happy to talk with any citizen about this issue. Please contact me through the city offices.”
“We will have our challenges in the year to come, more COVID-related social distancing, further attempts to remove heavy truck traffic from Main Street, negotiating legal fees with Susan Bisio, and our insurer, Michigan Municipal League. But these challenges and others come with every community’s attempt to become better. With the diligence and collective effort of all our leaders, those endorsed in this election and others, we will overcome challenges and continue to polish the jewel that is Clarkston.”
In Independence Township, all individuals ran unopposed in Supervisor Pat Kittle, Clerk Cari Neubeck, Treasurer Rachel Loughrin, and Trustees Jose Aliaga, Paul Brown, Terri Nallamothu, and Ron Ritchie.
“Cari Neubeck and her election team were at town hall until almost 2 a.m. on election night making sure every ballot was valid and counted,” Kittle said. “Professional. Poised. Can-do. These are the terms that I would use to describe this group of professionals. Handling over 15,000 absentee ballots plus record numbers of voters at the polling stations, Cari and her team didn’t skip a beat. Thank you to everyone who helped, everyone who worked in the precincts and everyone who provided support. Independence is a great community. And it’s the residents that make it so.”
This year, the township boasts 30,148 registered voters with 9,103 voting in person and 15,016 absentee for an overall turnout of 80 percent. In 2016, the township had 27,692 registered voters with 14,657 voting at the polls and 6,050 voting absentee for a near 75 percent turnout rate.
“This election was definitely one for the history books in more ways than one,” Neubeck said. “Absentee ballot requests reached record-breaking numbers which far surpassed those who chose to vote in-person at the precincts. Overall, the day ran pleasantly smooth thanks to the detailed preparation work provided by clerk’s office staff coupled with the dedicated election inspectors in the field, as none of this would be possible without them.
“Ultimately, big kudos to the residents who made a plan to cast a ballot, whether it be while serving overseas or by those who live down the street. Thank you all for voting.”
Like over in the village, finances are a big part of the township going forward.
“The biggest challenge that I see is prioritizing resources (code for money) to ensure the township is on solid ground from an infrastructure perspective for the next 20 years,” Kittle said. “Water, sewer, parks and municipal buildings all need to be evaluated and prioritized to maintain the best services for our residents. The township is fortunate to have a forward-thinking Board of Trustees who have a long-term vision for our community.”
Brown agrees with Kittle on the issues surrounding spending.
“Making sound financial decisions with taxpayer funds is always at the top of my list, even in good financial times, as downturns will eventually come, and we must be prepared to weather those storms,” said Brown. “My biggest priority is looking for ways to facilitate continuous improvements in the types of local resources, parks and community-based developments that will help keep younger families coming to our community to balance out the expected growth of our senior population and the projected decline in student enrollment over the next 20 years.”
“COVID-19 has created many challenges – or opportunities, if you will – for thinking outside of the box with regard to township operations,” Loughrin noted. “There are many things that the township must consider when deciding on how to respond to the COVID issue. How do we keep both our employees and residents safe but still provide the level of service needed and expected? How can we pivot, when it comes to Parks, Rec and Seniors, to keep or community active and engaged? What will state revenue sharing look like next year and how will this affect our ability to fund operations? What options do we have for revenue generation when our top revenue generating programs, run through our parks department, have been shut down?
“The full-time elected officials, supervisor, clerk and treasurer, have a great working relationship with each other and discuss these issues on a regular basis. Our solutions are fluid, so that we can revise them as needed to help in the best way possible.”
Loughrin also discussed her immediate priorities.
“My biggest priority right now is doing everything I can to make sure that my employees are kept safe and healthy during the upcoming tax season,” said Loughrin. “Practices will be implemented as necessary to control any spread of the virus. It is my hope that residents will take advantage of the multiple non-face-to-face options available for payment of taxes.”
Laura Moreau was elected Springfield Township Supervisor with 7,014 votes to 86 to unassigned write-ins.
Sean Miller was voted clerk (6,903 votes to 71 write-ins), Jamie Dubre is still treasurer (6,865 votes to 62 write-ins), and Dave Hopper (5,873 votes), Marc Cooper (5,853 votes) and Denny Vallad (5,585 votes) remain trustees with Pliska joining them with 5,755 votes. Donna Lopez (3,291 votes) did not gain election and there were 58 write-ins.
Parks commissioners Diane Baker (5,640 votes), Angela Spicer (5,573), Jean Vallad (5,475), Richard Parke (5,463), Dennis Omell (5,433), Anne Loncar (3,434), and Roger Bower (3,398) ran unopposed with 70 write-ins.
Library board members Mary Lynne Bell (3,209 votes), Kristine Bower (3,091), Ruth Gruber (3,014), Kathleen Rollins (2,931), Joan Rusch (2,847), and Sandra Marohn (2,730) ran unopposed.
Moreau won the primary election in August and said at that time her top priority was keeping the township moving in a forward manner.
“After 12 years serving as clerk and a member of the Township Board, I have extensive experience working with the board to manage fiscally responsible budgets during challenging economic times,” Moreau said. “And during this time, Springfield hasn’t just survived a recession, we have come out stronger, safer, and well prepared for the future. I have been instrumental in several planning initiatives that establish design guidelines and strategies to plan for development that protect our natural assets and preserve our community character. Maintaining Springfield’s character does not happen by inaction, or by ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ around our Township. Communities that try to do that lose their unique identity and ability to control their future. On the other hand, an “anything goes” approach to growth will quickly undo our decades-long commitment to open space planning and natural resources preservation that has greatly contributed to the quality of life we most value in Springfield.
“Since 2008, I have worked to define Springfield’s guiding principles and establish clear goals that both protect and advance our community. I am the candidate for supervisor who has the critical experience, vision, and drive that will provide stability and balance for a vibrant future of Springfield Township.”
In state and national elections, Oakland County voted both Democrat and Republican.
A total of 433,982 voters cast their vote for Democratic United States President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, compared to 325,916 that voted for current U.S. President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence/
For U.S. Senator, Democrat Gary Peters received 418,156 votes from county voters and John James garnered 334,569.
Republican Paul Junge outvoted Democrat Elissa Slotkin 85,909 to 71,459, but Slotkin won the overall vote 217,928 to 202,517 to retain the 8th District Congress Representative spot.
“We must figure out a way to come back together as a nation,” Slotkin said. “I refuse to believe that our politics will be this toxic from here on out.”
Slotkin is based in Holly.