Election 2022: County Commission District 1 race features Robbins vs Kramer


From staff reports

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners District 1 race features incumbent Rick Robbins (Republican) vs challenger Jamie Kramer (Democrat). Robbins won his previous election in 2020 by a razor-thin margin of 2 votes. He offered the swing vote on the Commission, proposing an 11th hour compromise to continue funding early childhood education in the County, even after Robbins’ fellow Republicans sought to defund the measure, which voters passed in 2019. Robbins is a farmer, business owner, and former first responder. Kramer worked in media and is currently an entrepreneur.

Democrats currently control the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners, 4 seats to 3, after Lois Bahle won a special recall election earlier this year. Will Democrats hold control, or will Republicans regain power? We asked the candidates about: their accomplishments on the Board (for incumbents), or why they are running for the Board (for challengers); their party affiliation; their thoughts on the County’s new septic inspection ordinance; their thoughts on growth in Leelanau County; the role the Commission should play in supporting early childhood education and childcare; support for workforce housing, and the recent reorganization of the County Clerk’s duties and the addition of two new county government departments. All seven Democrats responded to the questions; four of seven Republicans responded.

For incumbents: What is something you’re proud of that you have accomplished on the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners? For non-incumbents: Why are you running for the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners?

District 1, Rick Robbins (R) incumbent: Having the honor to serve the people of District 1. Septic ordinance, recycling at governmental center, and saving the early childhood development millage a year ago.

District 1, Jamie Kramer (D): I was in disbelief when the early childhood mileage had been zeroed out. The voters had a right to have their voices heard, especially those of us with young children. I felt like our generation, working parents with kids, needed to be represented on the commission. I want to show my colleagues, children, and our neighbors that this is what a county commissioner can look like. I believe in making data-driven, community-centered decisions, researching successful communities that have overcome similar challenges, ect. We live in the age of information, let’s use it to our advantage.

Explain your party affiliation. Why are you a Democrat or Republican?

D1, Robbins: Growing up in northern Michigan in the ’70s, everybody was pretty much a Republican. You had to run as one to get elected. At end of the day, I go in as independent thinker and look at all the issues before I decide how I’m going to vote. Leave the party affiliation out of the equation.

D1, Kramer: As I am running for a county commission seat, I will have to abstain from this question. I am a firm believer that party affiliation should play no role in local government.

What are your thoughts on the Commission’s new septic inspection ordinance? What other environmental initiatives would you pursue as Commissioner?

D1, Robbins: I’m glad we passed it. It was long overdue. We’re the only state in the nation without one. Moving in right direction. Need to care for water resources. Look at what’s going on out west. They’ll be coming to us for water. We have to stay on top of it. Doesn’t end with septic ordinance. We have to support, we have the lake associations that monitor it. We have to support them as Commissioners.

D1, Kramer: It’s about time. We are the only state that doesn’t have a statewide septic ordinance and Benzie County has had one for over 20 years now. I’m tired of no-swim advisories and watching the poor unknowing tourists swimming in e coli. We can and must do better. I’d like to build a consortium of water experts from various agencies like the Watershed Center, Leelanau Clean water and others. There is no shortage of community resources when it comes to clean water, it is just a matter of utilizing that knowledge.

What are your thoughts on growth in Leelanau County—both population and infrastructure? What role should the Commission play here?

D1, Robbins: My main concern with the population is we’re 49 percent over age of 60. That concerns me with high schools. Only 5 percent of the population is under age 5. Are we turning into a bedroom community? What services do we need as population gets older? People may have to travel outside of community to get services. A lot of it goes back to township and zoning, what they’ll allow. Have to make sure as population gets older, we stay up on senior services.

D1, Kramer: Here is another place where being intentional is so critical. There is an entire ecosystem that has to be considered, let’s dig in!

What role should the Commission play in supporting early childhood education and childcare in the County?

D1, Robbins: Right now, as commissioner we have to support what the citizens stated. They passed a millage in 2019. If public wants to change it, they can change it at the next millage election.

D1, Kramer: I am one of the Mom’s who can’t find affordable childcare. I work at the Y or in my van when my baby is asleep, fortunately I am building my own business and have the flexibility to work when and where I can but not everyone is so lucky. There is a workforce shortage if women had access to affordable safe childcare, you can bet we’d make a dent in that shortage.

Early childhood education is imperative to help kids develop the social and emotional skills they need to succeed and graduate high school and to be successful members of the community. Long story short, this all plays a role and yes I feel it is important that we give our young people every opportunity to flourish in our county.

What can the Commission do to support local workforce housing?

D1, Robbins: A tough one. We’re trying to support housing in general. Support regular housing issue. Hopefully we can increase that where workforce can live out here. Keep these businesses going. The American dream is to own a house, but that may have to be put on hold for a while. May need apartment housing to provide housing. Get roof over peoples’ heads. Maybe things will change with economy where we can work back toward American dream.

D1, Kramer: We have to streamline our regulatory processes, enable transparent land acquisition, emphasize property rights over title, develop regulations that protect both tenant and landlords, encourage mixed income and use housing developments, enable innovative financing models in developing new homes and create programs where new carpenters can learn skills by building new housing.

What are your thoughts on the recent reorganization of the County Clerk’s duties and the addition of two new county government departments?

D1, Robbins: We didn’t create two new departments, we created two new department heads. What I was looking at was the clerk doing an outstanding job for 40 years, but at some point she would retire. The next clerk, these are not statutory duties. When next clerk gets elected, they may say they don’t want to do these duties. What would we do as a county? This was more planning for the future. We are growing as a county. We do need fulltime HR. Other counties near us are doing same thing, creating separate departments.

D1, Kramer: As a taxpayer, I would have liked to see more research into the actual need of the new departments before their creation. More government isn’t always the answer. Moving forward,we have the opportunity to redefine these roles and create an inclusive space that works together for the community which they serve. We should also review audit data and find out how we can create a more comprehensive county government.