Leelanau Commission District 2 challenger John Hunter addresses key issues facing County

From staff reports

Today we’re featuring the candidates vying to represent Leelanau County Commission District 2 (northern Elmwood Township and Bingham Township), which is currently held by Republican incumbent Deb Rushton. Democrat John Hunter is challenging Rushton, who has held a Commission seat for eight years.

We asked the candidates the following six questions. Hunter responded; Rushton didn’t.

Sun: What are three hurdles facing Leelanau residents that you think the County Commission should address?

Hunter: The biggest hurdle facing Leelanau County is our political polarization and how that plays out in our daily lives and in many decisions by the Board. Many of us have convinced ourselves there is only one side to every issue, our own. Inappropriate comments from a passing vehicle to abducting yard signs has now replaced spirited political discussion among neighbors. Many residents feel disenfranchised by a commissioner who only listens to their base supporters. When that base has a mistrust in any form of government or science, the job of elevating Leelanau County as a whole becomes much more difficult and the future more uncertain. It is wrong to block the positive change that one district may desire against some perceived slight another district might suffer. A holistic approach would serve us all better. The three hurdles are infrastructure, affordable workforce housing and environment.

Sun: What can the Commission do to increase broadband and Internet access?

Hunter: This question would be best answered by those who have worked tirelessly on expanding our Internet access. The Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation (LPEF), its Leelanau Internet Futures Team (LIFT) and Commissioner Soutas-Little in particular, have been striving for years researching to provide the best process connectivity for all. Some are fortunate to live in a section of the county that has a stable, high-speed, internet connection. Too many residents do not have this connectivity. This is no longer a luxury but a critical necessity. I trust the experience and professionalism of the experts and would likely support their recommendation(s) to the Board of Commissioners.

Sun: What can the Commission do to increase affordable and workforce housing options here?

Hunter: All members of the Board of Commissioners should recognize that affordable, workforce housing is considered an essential driver to our County’s economic growth. Our businesses will benefit from a stable workforce and our schools will benefit with younger families. Some Commissioners overlooked this issue in their 2020 goals. I’m encouraged that the Leelanau County Planning Commission may be participating in the “Homes for our Future” campaign being conducted by Housing North at the Northwest Michigan Housing Summit later this month. I’m optimistic the Board will approve this meeting expenditure. I would expect whomever the County sends will benefit from the meeting and return with potentially workable solutions. The Board could be instrumental in bringing together property owners, construction groups, private, public, non-profit and business partnerships to solve this problem. This should be a top priority of the Board of Commissioners after the November elections.

Sun: What can the Commission do to protect Leelanau’s environment and mitigate the effects of Climate Change?

Hunter: An overwhelming majority of County residents want some sort of septic ordinance. A Point-of-Sale/Transfer Septic Ordinance would protect home buyers, identify failing systems and protect our watershed. No person should be able to claim an infringement of their property rights as an excuse for failing to do the minimum necessary to protect the public’s right to safe, clean water. The University of Michigan in 2019 presented findings of a Community Renewable Energy Plan. It showcased how Leelanau Peninsula could be 100% powered by efficient and sustainable energy sources. The county government should embrace renewable energy at its campus. The townships could implement a less restrictive renewable energy process concerning residential, small business and small community facilities. Each of us has a personal obligation to protect our environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. The future depends on it.

Sun: What can the Commission do to reach a resolution for Sugar Loaf?

Hunter: The Board of Commissioners has strenuously worked to achieve a successful resolution for the future of Sugar Loaf. Let’s review some facts. As long as the property taxes are paid, the County is precluded from taking firmer measures. A developer agreed to purchase and improve the property. For various reasons one delay followed another. Said developer then wanted $3 million for demolition and remediation. More delays because of COVID-19 or “bureaucracy”. $3 million has now become $6.5 million for clean-up. The developer is now fighting a civil ticket in Federal Court. The county should continue meaningful discussions regarding the future of Sugar Loaf but must maintain its financial integrity.

Sun: What did you learn from the Commission’s pained efforts to draft an anti-racism resolution? Why was it so difficult to do so? What next steps should the Commission take on combatting racism in Leelanau?

Hunter: I learned that “Pained” is the perfect metaphor and witnessing a few public servants engage in a childish display of ‘whataboutism’ was even more painful. The difficulty arose when a Commissioner(s) verbally expressed his/her racial bias. The County had no anti-racism policy procedure. Fortunately, the Commissioners came together and created a meaningful resolution. I am encouraged that County Administrator Janik has hired Professor Emling to provide anti-bias training to the County Commissioners. All county employees might benefit from this or similar anti-bias training. Whether discrimination or harassment presents itself in racial or any other form, it has absolutely no place in any branch of government.