The only scheduled debate between candidates for the 25th district County Commissioner seat was Monday, July 19. Both Comcast and WideOpenWest will broadcast it multiple times. You may also watch it on your computer by visiting Ferndale Cable's video of the debate.
If you plan on voting in the Democratic Primary Tuesday, August 3rd, Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey deserves your vote for County Commissioner in the 25th district (Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak).
The other candidates on the Democratic ticket are Ruel McPherson, former county commissioner, and Tomiko Gumbleton, former Ferndale Councilwoman. A fourth candidate, Richard Parisi, is unopposed on the Republican side of the ballot and did not attend.
At the debate Monday night, the candidates were given a minute to respond to 13 questions submitted by audience members. Some impressions about the candidates is below.
If any candidate can be said to have knocked one out of the park, it was Ruel McPherson.
When asked what one of the first things he would do as county commissioner he went right to cost-cutting. It's hard to imagine a county run as tightly as Oakland and with as high a bond rating as it has might have low-hanging-fruit, but McPherson sees a big one. He sees little reason the road, parks, and drain departments couldn't be managed under a single roof, sharing all their facilities, equipment, contracts, and personnel to more efficiently manage what is mostly common between them. I hope that whomever wins the November election takes this great idea to their first commissioners meeting.
McPherson also mentioned tax-base sharing several times. Even after reading about it, it's unclear how this idea compares with how property taxes are already distributed--unevenly and inequitably--throughout the county.
Tomiko has been an active member of the community for years; as a volunteer, as a city councilwoman, and as a member of Ferndale's Democratic Club. Tomiko's commitment to all things Democrat probably make her a great asset to Senator Debbie Stabenow, but that same dedication and single-mindedness makes her a poor candidate for the Board of Commissioners.
With the recent death of Republican commissioner Jeff Potter, the board is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. No one knows what the new mix will be after November, but it is certain that both the 25th District and the county will be poorly served by rabid partisanship.
Gumbleton repeated multiple times that she prefers to make decisions based on data and facts rather than gut instinct. From her votes on Ferndale's city council it would appear her appetite for facts is inversely proportional to her predisposition (euphemism for prejudice). In other words, if her gut doesn't like an idea it needs data. If she likes an idea the data doesn't matter.
In 2007 she sat through a presentation from Ferndale's DDA asking for a special tax on downtown businesses. The presentation was rife with misinformation, bad comparisons to Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Rochester, generalizations, and no ideas what the DDA would do with the increased revenue. That was all fine with Tomiko. Data didn't matter because she was already in the DDA's pocket.
In 2009, in a city bleeding from foreclosures, falling property values and taxes, and staring down the throat of a $3 million budget deficit, Gumbleton repeatedly voted for more money spent on consultants ($110,000-worth) to consider building a new municipal complex with price tags ranging up to $8 million.
In a recent Observer & Eccentric article, Tomiko defended her spending on consultants for the municipal project by saying, "No one knew 2 1/2 years ago where we would be now." Apparently, Gumbleton didn't pay attention to the 2006 gubernatorial election and how important Michigan's plummeting economy was four years ago. Nor did she listen in 2008 when the DDA changed its mind about the tax increase (helped by a petition signed by over 400 voters) saying that due to the economy, raising taxes was probably a bad idea for downtown businesses. And she didn't listen in 2009 when resident after resident pleaded with city council to abandon its pursuit of an expensive and unnecessary building project and stop wasting money on consultants. Apparently, 2 1/2 years ago, Gumbleton was one of only a few council persons who didn't know "... where we would be now."
Those are not the credentials of good policy making. Those are not the credentials of someone that claims to be interested in data. Those are not the credentials of someone that can help Oakland (or anyone else) through the upcoming budget crunches. Those are not the credentials of someone the 25th district needs representing them on the board of commissioners.
Many Ferndaler's biggest problem with Craig's campaign for county commissioner isn't his leaving his post as Ferndale's mayor as much as it is the fact councilwoman Kate Baker will replace him. As legitimate as that disappointment may be it does not excuse electing a less qualified candidate August 3rd. If Ferndaler's don't like Kate as their mayor they can fix that next November.
In bad budget times, like the next several years promise to be, fiscal responsibility and the ability to work with folks on the "other" side of the aisle will be important traits of the elected officials we need in Oakland, and other places throughout the state and in Lansing.
Craig's "government isn't always the solution" comments during the debate appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than do candidates claiming they can solve all our problems with more federal grant money. His ideas on sprawl, land use, and the conservation of existing infrastructure are also more appealing than the oft-parroted land-bank sound bites from other candidates.
Craig isn't the perfect candidate, but he's the best for District 25 in the Democratic Primary.
No matter who you're voting for, be sure to vote Tuesday, August 3.