The night this reporter went before the Mason County Commission to ask for help in regard to an improperly designated commercial rehabilitation act district for the old Foster Elementary School was the same night they divulged that Gary Castonia was retiring from the board due to health issues. Although I was concentrating more on the issue at hand, an issue the board would agree with at their next regular meeting by rejecting the district, later that night I contacted a woman who I thought would make a good replacement at that position.
After a few days, we both figured out that she was not part of the district, which had undergone some changes since the 2020 census changes had gone into effect. No longer was the 2nd district made up of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Wards of Ludington, the district now comprises southern parts of the 3rd ward and Pere Marquette Charter Township (PMCT) and dropped the 5th ward and northern parts of the 6th ward.
This new designation put my residence squarely in this district, and she encouraged me back to run for the seat, and so I had a decision to make. This wasn't a decision that came easy one way or the other. Though I haven't found the county administration to have the faults that the county's two cities currently have, or the school board or the PMCT Board (which may soon be over), I have had some issues recently with accountability in county departments: the prosecutor, the sheriff, and the library board.
Regardless, if I were to get the seat, my ability to report responsibly on all of these local agencies would be hindered by my political status and the political calculations I would need to make as a public official, and it would assuredly interfere with my objectivity as a reporter or commentator. Rob Alway's failed career as a commissioner/journalist is a case in point that I didn't want to have happen to me.
But on the other hand, there was the possibility that i may be able to make a bigger difference as someone with the power of a county commissioner who would hopefully have the wisdom to continue my quest for transparency and accountability as a public servant-- and maybe be able to do more to correct the ills I have witnessed. After all other considerations were made, I decided that I would apply if there were to be a favorable outcome with their decision on the CRA district which they would make a week before one could apply. It would show that I would be able to work with the other commissioners for the remaining year of the term rather than come in with a chip on my shoulder on the off chance I was selected.
The commission came through, denying the district with unanimity, and so I prepared a letter of interest and a resume and handed it in just an hour before the deadline. I figured that if I had been the only one to apply, there might have been an effort to find another candidate so that they wouldn't have to have such a firebrand like me as the only choice. This was a real possibility since there hasn't been a lot of candidates coming forward in the three wards comprising the second district over the last decade.
It turned out that I was only one of nine candidates who applied: James Coleman, Kevin Hackert, Tim Iteen, Jason Kirkpatrick, Karen Nielsen, Cathy Schindler, Karen Shineldecker, Les Johnson and me. Any dreams I had of being on the commission against this group was virtually shattered.
Coleman heads up the Hart MSP post, Hackert is a project manager at Western Land Services, Kirkpatrick owns his own construction business and has ran for the seat before, Nielsen was with LMTA and a former teacher, Schindler was a former prosecutor in Alaska and works at COVE, Shineldecker is an LASD teacher and landlady, Johnson has been on the Ludington City Council for 12 years. With those pedigrees I figured I barely stood a chance, and with Iteen also running, the man known for orchestrating the successful recall drives against two trustees in PMCT, the outsider/reformer vote (which wouldn't likely materialize among the choosers) was in doubt.
I sat with Iteen before the special meeting at a different meeting, a rather routine meeting of the PMCT Board of Trustees held an hour prior, Commissioner Lew Squires sat nearby; he usually gives a report from the county at such meetings. He thanked us both for applying, but warned Iteen of potential conflicts that may arise if his wife gets on the PMCT Board as treasurer.
Sheriff Kim Cole arrived also to give his presentation; after giving his report, he said he would have to duck out to attend the county meeting and made a point to note that even though he and I have differed on some matters of public policy in the past (primarily on the proper release of information) that he would definitely cooperate should I get on the county board. This surprised me since I thought I had only a very slim chance to win and the sheriff's comment indicated I may have underestimated that probability.
Just after his comment, all four of the aforementioned attendees got in separate cars and took off to the airport to attend the county meeting. The modest-sized boardroom was packed, I decided to find an open seat in the front. Besides the choosing of the next commissioner, the only other item on the agenda was to go over county administrator candidate applications to fill the seat opened by Fabian Knizacky's retirement early next year.
Public comment was dominated by Jason Kirkpatrick, with three people talking up his character and experience and why he was the best choice, concluding with the man himself, who decided to give a brief bio before deciding what the other candidates had decided, to wait. The commission decided to go down the list and call on candidates and ask them questions. They gave up on this tact when they had taken quite a while to get through James Coleman. They decided instead to have all candidates introduce themselves and then have commissioners throw out questions to the candidate of their choice.
I would guess that most of us other than Mr. Kirkpatrick had anything prepared, and I was mostly at a loss because I don't like selling myself. It's either because I am too humble, or I worry that I may oversell myself and lose any sense of humility. Nevertheless, I not only managed to remain humble when I spoke but delivered the best line of the night (in my humble opinion).
I listened intently to the resumes and self-assessments of the prior candidates and fortunately I was third to the last, right after Les Johnson. Les noted the obvious that he had been on the Ludington City Council for 12 years (but didn't note any positive group or individual accomplishments from that service, naturally) and so after I introduced myself, I said: "I have not been on the Ludington City Council for 12 years, but I have been ON the Ludington City Council for 14 years." Sheriff Cole agreed with my assessment afterwards that it was the line of the night.
After all the introductions (Ms. Nielsen was not present), the commissioners were asking questions to candidates with Squires and Nick Krieger taking point. One would figure that those getting the most questions were being considered more than others. Johnson would field the most questions. None of the answers from anybody were dealbreakers, so it looked as if he had the advantage.
And it turns out he did, four of the commissioners would pick Johnson on the first ballot. Former undersheriff Commissioner Jody Hartley would choose Coleman and Squires would pick Jason Kirkpatrick, but the rest would all choose Johnson. Krieger, as the first to decide mentioned me first and offered a very complimentary tribute to the skill set I had to offer, before moving on to why he chose 'his city councilor'. He figured Johnson was the best choice in this transitional one-year term. Others agreed.
Was I saddened by my loss? No, I was already aware that I had less than a one in nine chance to win anyway, so the next best result was for Johnson to win. Consider, I may be gaining a subpar county commissioner, but at the same time I gained two big things namely:
1) the hopes of getting a new city councilor that will actually reflect the will of the citizens, and to that end I applied for the soon-to-be-vacant position early the next morning, since Johnson would need to resign from it. Do I expect to win that seat on a vote by the current council? Nope, but I will have some fun in the process-- I do want to remain ON the council.
2) with Johnson's resignation, I am spared the task of seeking a couple hundred signatures in the Third Ward for the recall petition I got earlier this year. With his vacating the office, I have effectively reached my objective in getting him out of office.
Les Johnson looks on while XLFD makes the case for the language of Johnson's recall petition
He has lost his seat and won another. I have lost a seat but won my recall objective. Some will tell you that there were eight losers that night, but I only count seven.
Good summery of events and very humbly done at that.