Saturday, November 26, 2022

GENERAL ELECTION PREVIEW: 4 commissioner races to be decided in Ionia County

IONIA — The Ionia County Board of Commissioners will definitely look different in 2023.

Voters will decide between Republican and Democratic candidates for four districts on the county board in the Nov. 8 election.

Meanwhile, two commissioners and a newcomer are all running unopposed as Republicans in November. In Districts 2 and 6, incumbents Scott Wirtz and Jack Shattuck are running unopposed, as is District 7 candidate Terence M. Frewen who previously won against incumbent Georgia Sharp in the August primary.

District 1

In the race for District 1, consisting of the city of Belding, Otisco Township and the area of Orleans Township west of Johnson Road, eight-year incumbent Republican David Hodges will face Democratic challenger Michael Baker.

David Hodges

Hodges, 59, is a lifelong resident of the Belding area. He graduated from Belding High School, served in the U.S. Army and has a degree in business management from Cornerstone University. He is the owner of North Woods Furniture, M-4 Stor & Lock, North Woods Lawn Service and has been chairman of the Ionia County Board of Commissioners for the last four years.

“I’m not a politician; they serve for their own self interest. I strive to be a public servant; they serve to help make your lives better,” Hodges said. “I keep political games off our board’s agendas, because if we’re playing those games we’re not doing our job. I believe in an open door policy, and you’re always welcome to visit me at the store, my home, by email or by phone call. If it’s an issue that is important to you I should be willing to listen and try to help solve your problem. I work for you, the taxpayers of District 1. It take time, flexibility, courage, honesty, integrity and experience to serve as a good, effective county commissioner. All things I believe I’ve proven over the past eight years as your commissioner.”

Baker, 64 has lived in Belding for 20 years. He is a substance/mental health worker for Cherry Health in Grand Rapids who helped create a substance and mental health class for Belding Public Schools. He currently sits on other boards, including the Belding Board of Education and the Belding Housing Commission, and his work experience included manufactory, retail, health and human service, volunteering and work with non-profits.

Mike Baker

“I like the involvement and knowing what the citizen of the community wants for District 1,” Baker said. “This is my first time running for a county commission seat. I want to serve the community the best way I can and bring in a new future for Belding moving forward together.”

When asked what sets them apart from their opponent, each candidate had kind words for the other.

“I don’t know Mr. Hodges that well, but what I can see is that he’s a gentleman who cares and has a great love for the Belding community, serving many years on the county commission,” Baker said. “I would like to be transparent, interact and bring newness to the Belding community. We are big supporters of family, community, substance and mental health.”

“I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting my opponent a few times. I like him and he seems to be a very nice man,” Hodges said. “To be an effective county commissioner, you need to have a very flexible schedule. As your commissioner I have to serve on several other state and county boards. These boards meet monthly all across West Michigan and have meeting times from 8, 9 and 10 in the morning all the way down to 7 o’clock at night. Working for myself allows me that flexibility of time. One of the committees I serve on is called the West Michigan Regional Planning Board, a board I also chair. One of the things this board does is help communities with waste water treatment plant projects; which the city of Belding has to do. I set up a Zoom meeting with the EDA and the city leaders to help the city with grant funding for this project; which will help the city taxpayers in the end. I helped lead the way in building the county’s new justice wing to our courthouse; without raising taxes. I helped take on the challenging issues facing the Road Commission, making it more effective and responsive to our county residents’ needs. Experience, and my time, are two areas I will continue to offer you as your county commissioner.”

The Daily News asked each candidate what their goals would be if elected.

“In my next term, if given this privilege, I will continue to work hard in keeping Ionia County’s budget in the black,” Hodges said. “I will work at making sure our programs are there for you when needed. I’ll make sure our county employees are taken care of, and allowed to work in a safe environment. The county board has set aside two million dollars for the possible jail upgrades and expansion; which I’ll be working closely with our sheriff on. I will make time to listen and serve you, the residents of District 1. This is not a board for political minded people, but a place for someone who truly wants to be a public servant.”

“I am a thinker, a creator, I like to bring fresh new ideals and opportunities to Belding community and help make life easy to live, work and play here in Belding,” Baker said. “I have made history in Belding in many ways, let’s continue to make history together here in Belding.”

District 3

District 3 includes Keene, Easton and Ionia townships. Voters will choose between Democratic challenger Michelle McCord and Republican incumbent Larry Tiejema.

Michelle McCord

McCord, 71, is a retired secondary English teacher who has lived in Easton Township “for nearly 50 years in the house l built on a piece of the family farm.”

“My roots here are deep and I would like everyone to have the opportunities that I have had,” she said.

Tiejema, a self-employed certified public accountant from Saranac, taught at Saranac Community Schools from 1962 until 1998. He has been a commissioner since 2003 and currently serves as the vice chairman.

“Nineteen years of experience as a county commissioner has helped me to understand the financial structure of the County of Ionia, the services that the county provides to its residents and what is needed to sustain the services that are essential to the citizens of Ionia County,” Tiejema said. “Excellent working relationships with elected and appointed department heads and an understanding what of each department needs to effectively serve its constituents. Career experiences in public education and accounting services that has helped me to understand the needs of county residents, and how the County can meet these needs with the limited resources available.”

McCord said she is not personally familiar with Tiejema.

Larry Tiejema

“I know that my opponent was also a teacher and serves on the board of the Commission on Aging, but I don’t know much else about him,” McCord said.

Tiejema is not personally familiar with McCord either.

“I am not acquainted with my opponent, but anyone who chooses to take on the responsibility of a local government position is a special person,” Tiejema said. “A county commissioner must work long hours to be prepared to make crucial decisions that affect the everyday life of its citizens. Deciding to buy that extra road plow truck can determine whether hundreds of people can safety get to their jobs. Providing Central Dispatch with the technology it needs to send emergency personnel to accident and crime scenes can make the difference between life and death.”

McCord’s goals, if elected, would tend toward openness and environmental stewardship.

“I would like to have open communication with our residents and I’m especially concerned that we’ve lost our recycling center,” she said. “We must also do everything possible to protect our water.”

Tiejema’s goals for the next two years, if re-elected, would revolve around updating county services and facilities.

“The county has many aging buildings that need constant attention,” he said. “I would support a review of these structures in order to develop a plan for maintaining each building in the most cost effective way possible. I would like to continue the work of (Personnel Committee) Chairperson Georgia Sharp and the personnel committee to review and improve personnel policies. It is very important that all police, fire, and emergency personnel have full use of 800 megahertz radios so that inter-communication can save many lives. I would promote any responsible effort to provide the necessary funds so that all public safety personnel can speak to each other.”

District 4

For District 4, which includes includes Boston and Campbell townships, Phillip Lee Hesche, a Republican, is running against Judith Transue, a Democrat.

Phillip Lee Hesche

Transue did not respond to emails from the Daily News and the phone number listed for her on county election paperwork is apparently incorrect.

Hesche, 63, hails from Saranac and Boston Township. He is the co-owner of Pinkney Hill Meat Company, a former employee of the Michigan Department of Corrections and served with the U.S. Army Military Police from 1977 to 1980.

“I am a longtime business owner that I built myself and have 30 plus years experience in hiring, budgeting, forward planning, implementation and running day to day operations … with skills developed over a lifetime of experience and daily interaction with people from all walks of life,” Hesche said.

In response to a question about his plans if elected, Hesche focused on fiscal responsibility.

“(I will) work with our current and future board as a whole, to reach expedient resolutions and work with the department managers (and) supervisors as needed to keep the county moving forward and become more fiscally solvent,” Hesche said.

District 5

In District 5, which includes the city of Ionia and Berlin Township, Democratic incumbent Ally Cook faces Republican challenger Gordon Kelley.

Gordon Kelley

Kelley, 62, of Ionia is the owner of KDH Construction, a company he started in 1999. He was elected to the Ionia City Council in 1989 and has served there continuously since 2000.

Describing his qualifications, Kelley said, “I have served in leadership positions on various non-profit boards, as President of my local Home Builders Association, Regional Vice-President and on the Executive Board of Directors for the state Home Builders Association.

“From this experience I know how a board is supposed to run and how to keep a Board functioning and on track,” Kelley continued. “I’ve experience in good economies and what were frankly terrible economies. I’ve made tough decisions and ones that I personally wouldn’t have preferred but were the correct and necessary ones for the good of the folks I served and represented. |I’ve never viewed any of the positions in which I was entrusted as a stepping stone to some future position.”

Cook, 36, of Ionia, is a sixth generation Ionian and the former Ionia city clerk.

“I want the best for Ionia County and its people and I work hard on an everyday basis to make our community stronger,” Cook said. “For my age, I have considerable experience in local government and also have experience serving on a multitude of boards. These opportunities have afforded me effective collaboration and communication skills, have taught me how to plan, budget and prioritize spending, and also how to identify and work toward common goals.

Ally Cook

“I take my position as commissioner very seriously — with the exception of one meeting in which I had tested positive for COVID, I am the only member of the Board of Commissioners with perfect meeting attendance,” she said. “I strive to not only be present, but to be informed and engaged. As promised during the last election cycle, I am always accessible to my constituents and feel honored to have been entrusted with such a great deal of responsibility. I work hard because I have a genuine love for Ionia County and my desire is to realize our full potential.”

When asked what sets them apart from their opponent, Kelley was brief: “I make it a point to not discuss any opponent nor their views.”

Cook was somewhat more verbose.

“Experience on boards and in local government is helpful and has served me well, but much more importantly, my curiosity, open mind and willingness to listen and learn sets me apart,” she said. “I don’t claim to know all the answers but I do my research, ask questions and take time to get further acquainted with people, processes, policies and departments. I find it beneficial to learn directly from the experts, and as such, I took it into my own hands to tour multiple county departments to familiarize myself with their respective operations. As a millennial and a woman, it’s imperative that someone like me has a seat on the board. As the youngest board member by over 20 years, my generation deserves representation — differing perspectives is what makes us great. There has been a lack of diversity on the board and I’d like to see that change — we learn and grow by sharing, discussing and respecting other viewpoints. We’re certainly at our best when we can all work together toward common goals.”

Kelley’s goals for the next two years are focused on financial responsibility.

“First and foremost is to make sure the Board of Commissioners acts as a legislative body, not a managerial one, to give the new county administrator and staff all the tools and direction necessary to operate Ionia County, as well as to set a stable and fiscally responsibly path for the future,” Kelley said.

Cook said she would focus on finance, communication and completing projects.

“From the outside looking in, 2022 may have seemed tumultuous at the county,” she said. “In actuality, we saw some much-needed change and we’re now in good hands and have nowhere to go but forward. I’m eager to get straight to work with the incoming administrator and finance director. There is a need to improve the county’s strategic plan, clearly identifying our short-term and long-term goals. There is potential for some big projects on the horizon (i.e. new jail) but we have handfuls of smaller-scale issues and projects that need to be identified and fine-tuned as well. There’s some great potential for the remaining ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) monies and I’d like to see that through to its completion. The board could certainly stand to improve the ARPA allocation process and I’d like to be a part of that. 

“Very importantly, I’d like for Ionia County to have an official social media presence,” she added. “We work for the people and therefore need to make it easier for the public to stay informed of the goings-on at the county. Whether we like it or not, we must accept that many people get their news from social media. In the past there were some serious communication issues between administration and the board and between administration and county departments. As aforementioned, we’ve restored rapport and lines of communication between administration and the board and we’re stronger now than ever. I’m ready to get to work — there’s nothing standing in our way.”

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