Dorr Twp. candidates differ on township spending
The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Dorr Township supervisor diverged on a number of topics at a forum Saturday, July 26.
Incumbent supervisor Jeff Miling and township trustees Patty Senneker and John Tuinstra met on stage at Crosswind Community Church in Dorr and answered nearly two dozen questions from press and the public. Attendance varied during the course of the two-and-a-half-hour event between 25 and 45.
The candidates did fully agree on two subjects. They each backed the 2.75-mill road tax proposal on the Aug. 5 ballot. They also agreed Dorr did not need its own police force.
Beyond that, candidate opinions varied—generally following a pattern of Miling defending current practices and the two challengers disagreeing and saying they could do better.
Right out of the gate, forum moderator and Hopkins police chief Rachel Sadowski put to each the subject of whether or not board members should micromanage township affairs.
Tuinstra said this likely had its root in recent township purchases. While he said it was fine for small purchases to be handled solely by office personnel, the point at which bigger-ticket items should be brought to the board was a gray area.
“I want to get that defined,” Tuinstra said.
In answering this question and a later question about whether township spending was in check, Tuinstra disagreed with the practice of purchases of multi-thousand-dollar items not being either competitively bid or compared to used-item prices. He pointed out several examples of his own actions repairing items for the township or finding better prices.
Miling said he preferred not to micromanage.
“Basically, things run like a department,” Miling said, giving as an example the fire department. “Basically it runs itself. We don’t ask them why they spent $3,000 to overhaul a pump... we just let them buy it.
“They’ve got (just) so much in the budget, and they stay within their budget.”
When it came to purchasing maintenance equipment, he said he drew on his experience working maintenance for township.
Miling said, “I took over Harry’s job for five months... I drove his tractor and tried to keep the sidewalks clear and keep the equipment running. I don’t know how he did it with that.
“So, we set aside $85,000 for new equipment to do things better and faster and not have to worry about it breaking down.”
Senneker said she did not believe township board members had been micromanaging.
“We’re elected to perform a duty for people,” she said. “John’s right, there needs to be a policy... there has to be a limit to how much any department can spend.
“It shouldn’t be their decision; it should be the board’s decision.”
So, was the township’s spending in check?
Miling said it is.
“(Rather than letting it sit in an account), I think our money works better for us when we use it,” he said.
Tuinstra and Senneker say spending isn’t in check.
Senneker said, “We didn’t need to update equipment; we did not need to buy new. We need to see more conservative spending, more thought put into it.”
Tuinstra said it wasn’t that he wanted to see money sit in an account; he wanted to save money where it could be saved to fund other things the township needs.
“I think our duty is to spend (township money) wisely.”
He carried that through when asked if the library should be run with minimal township input.
“If money goes through our hands, it should be spent wisely,” Tuinstra said. “The library is getting $40,000 a year out of the general fund. If we were sloppy with that, that’d be a dereliction of duty.”
Miling and Senneker agreed that the library should be run with minimal input from the township board.
All three candidates raised their hands when asked if they opposed the most recent sewer project along 142nd Avenue.
Miling said, “I did oppose it because of the way it was put through. But when I look back on it, it was one of the best things that happened to Dorr. I’m glad people stood up and did what they thought was right.”
Asked if new businesses were attracted by the sewer or if AJ’s would have been remodeled without it, Senneker said AJ’s lot wasn’t big enough for a septic system anyway.
“We didn’t need it for the downtown district,” she said.
Tuinstra said he opposed it because of high usage fees, explaining he could have replaced his septic system and well alternating every five years with the equivalent amount of money unspent on the usage fee.
“In the long run, I kind of like the way it settled out,” he said. “...We had a lot of discussion in the community. It helps to talk.”
On what could be done to repair the township board’s deteriorated relationship with the parks commission and library board:
Miling: “I love our library and our parks... I think we have to work together to just make things happen.”
Senneker: “I think personal feelings ought to be left at home.”
Tuinstra: “There’s been a statement that those on the parks commission didn’t trust me; I just didn’t believe that. To improve things? I have a degree in counseling from Cornerstone University. I’ve helped a lot of people suffering from depression. The Bible is a really great handbook for the planet; the more we follow it, the greater success we’ll have. I think I can apply my counseling experience to those relationships.”
On the time commitment of the supervisor position:
Miling: “I’m a people person... I have an ability to interact with different boards and with surrounding townships. I enjoy doing that. (His office extension is linked to his cell phone.) I want to be available. I’m probably in the office eight to nine hours a day; I’m retired.”
Senneker: “I’m currently active in real estate; I’m not going to let that go by the wayside. So, I’ll probably be working 80 to 90 hours a week.”
Tuinstra: “I’m retired from teaching. I do some lobbying in Lansing with a parental rights group, which I can transfer to others. I have plenty of time to devote to the job.”
Why they’re the best for the job:
Miling: “I think I bring value to the township because I make things run smoothly. I do enjoy working this job; I think we have great residents. Some of them come in hot and we seem to work through it. The things I can’t correct —whoever I need to contact, I’ll call whoever I need to call.”
Senneker: “Conservative spending, honesty, integrity... I think the relationship with parks can be improved considerably. I’ll bring a gentler and kinder atmosphere and greater compliance with the law... policies that earn respect. I’ve got 20 years as a precinct delegate.”
Tuinstra: “My broad experience. I worked retail, driven truck, made and poured concrete; I was a teacher for 33 years... and taught math, drafting, CAD. I’ve been influencing government as a precinct delegate. I think of myself as a normal person. The three people up here are normal people, not career politicians.”