Q&A with candidates for Emmet County Commission on Nov. 8


EMMET COUNTY — In the upcoming midterm election on Nov. 8, several of Emmet County’s districts will decide on their county commissioner for the next two years.

The first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth districts are all contested. District 2 commissioner Neil Ahrens and District 7 commissioner Matt Koontz are running unopposed.

The Petoskey News-Review reached out to the candidates for the Emmet County Board of Commissioners to learn more about them and their plans if they are elected.

The News-Review reserved the right to edit responses for length, clarity and adherence to Associated Press style guidelines.  

More:What’s on the Nov. 8 ballot in Emmet County?

District 1

Emmet County’s first district consists of Bliss, Carp Lake, Center, Cross Village, McKinley, Readmond and Wawatam townships, as well as the western part of Mackinaw City. Democrat Mike Adams is running against Republican Charles Laughbaum, neither have held the position before.

Mike Adams

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession

A: My name is Mike Adams and I am 40 years old. I am the owner and CEO of a manufacturing company called Jolly Lama Creations, LLC.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?

A: I moved to Pellston in 2007.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?)

A: I ran for president of the Village of Pellston in 2020.

Q: Why are you running for office?

A: I am running for the office of Emmet County Commissioner District 1 because in order to solve complex problems it is very important to have input and oversight from people who have different perspectives. I know there are always simple answers, but there are rarely simple solutions. I hope to help solve some of Emmet County’s most pressing issues with a long term perspective that is focused on achieving long lasting solutions.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better?

A: In District 1 there are some roads that are crumbling back into dirt roads. Larks Lake Road, Sturgeon Bay Trail and North Lakeshore Drive have been in awful shape for a very long time. A solution needs to be found so taxpayers aren’t getting hit twice; once when they pay their property taxes then again when they pay their mechanic. Many in northern Emmet County do not want the expense to fall on those with the lowest means, but it already is. Having a crumbling road in front of your home lowers your home’s value and increases your costs. Doing nothing or applying small patches when large overhauls are needed adds to the cost that literally gets kicked down the road. Investing in our own infrastructure now with funds that come from down the street rather than waiting for funds from downstate means we will enjoy the benefits of our improved roads sooner.

Pellston is also still facing a PFAS water contamination problem. Dozens of residents are still not able to drink water from their own taps. I live in Pellston and I don’t even drink my water even though my well is one of the lucky ones. Although the PFAS contamination may be nearly impossible to clean up entirely, more needs to be done for the residents who have been negatively impacted. Since there is no sewer system in Pellston, this may mean subsidizing or paying for new wells through EPA grants or at least providing whole home filtration systems.

We also need to keep a close and watchful eye on Enbridge who is operating Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. A pipeline rupture would be an economic and environmental disaster. We need to do whatever it takes to prevent an oil spill in the Great Lakes and make sure Enbridge is doing everything it can despite having already experienced an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. Many advocate for a tunnel, but I say not on the taxpayer’s dime. Michigan bears a lot of risk for allowing a 70-year-old oil pipeline to pass through the world’s largest body of freshwater and the rewards go primarily to a private company. I say let Enbridge pay for the tunnel if it is the safest solution and if shutting down Line 5 would cause an undue burden to those in the U.P. who rely on it. However, if Enbridge cannot afford to dig a tunnel to safely move oil under the straits and if the current pipeline becomes deemed unsafe then it needs to be shut down before a drop of oil spills into Lake Michigan/Huron.

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?

A: Emmet County is a great place for those who are retired and for those who want to get away from it all. It has unmatched natural resources that are well conserved because those who live here as well as those who visit tend to value untouched and undeveloped spaces. There are a lot of two-tracks that are well-maintained by the road commission in the summer months and the road commission also does a good job of keeping our roads cleared of snow in the winter.

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?

A: I plan to find a better solution for the poor road situation in District 1. I find it hard to believe that we can create an effective and efficient transit system if we cannot find the funds to provide good roads for the buses to travel on.  So, we need to prioritize and adequately fund one major source of infrastructure before we can start a new one that relies on the former. That said, I am a major proponent of public transit as well as taking simple, low-cost steps toward making travel by bicycle safer throughout Emmet County as well. A commissioner needs to be good at the allocation of scarce resources while also planning to sustain providing those resources reliably for an extended period of time. To achieve this we must think with the end in mind in order to deliver the best bang for the taxpayer’s buck. Last, but not least, I will look outside Emmet County to attract new businesses as well as take steps to make it easier for existing residents to start and grow new businesses within Emmet County.

Charles Laughbaum

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession  

A: 72 years old, cattle farmer, Sysco Foods delivery driver, (retired) school bus driver.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?  

A: 72 years (one winter lived in Naples, Florida).

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: Yes, county commissioner in 2010 (lost).

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: Toni Drier called me in April (the current commissioner) and told me that she is not running. She asked me to run — she is endorsing me.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: Bad roads, stop harassing small businesses and citizens for flying one too many American flags in their yards and denying septic permits. 

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?  

A: Law and order

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?

A: I would like to see the Emmet County Board of Commissioners and Road Commission get together, cooperate and come up with plans to rebuild the bad roads. Many of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The ARPA money should be used to rebuild the roads.

Also, the State of Michigan should sell some of its vast holdings in District 1 to citizens (at a reasonable price) so it can be used for housing and help with the tax base.

Also, I would like to see the city government of Petoskey and its mayor stop blocking development of “the big hole.”

I am for election-day voting only (except for absentee ballots). Also, paper ballots only with voter I.D. No machines.

Also, Emmet County should not be trying to force employees to take shots for the (coronavirus) or wearing masks.

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District 3

Democrat Anna Serafin is running against Republican Don Mapes for the third district seat on the Emmet County Board of Commissioners. The third district consists of the City of Harbor Springs, Little Traverse Township and Bear Creek Township Precinct 1.

Mapes did not respond by press time.

Anna Serafin

Anna Serafin

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession  

A: My name is Anne Serafin. I am 68 years old. I am a registered nurse and a certified medical coder, a mother and a grandmother. I graduated from North Central Michigan College with an associate degree in nursing in 1981 and from University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1996. I have been working as a medical coder for the last 18 years.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?  

A: I was born in Jackson, Michigan but I have lived in Northern Lower Michigan for most of my life. For the past seven years my home has been in Harbor Springs.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: I ran for office once before, two years ago for the District 3 County Commissioner seat.

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: I am running for office because I feel the county needs the voice of Democratic voters on the board of commissioners, especially since the Republican Party has taken a hard right turn toward extremism and promotion of corporate interests instead of the interests of their constituents.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: I feel the biggest challenge facing the county today is maintaining and preserving the resources with which we have been blessed, and which many other locations do not enjoy. We have a relatively temperate climate, extraordinary beauty of surroundings, outstanding public parks and recreational opportunities, and essential services available to residents, both seasonal and year-round. I feel the county can do more to take advantage of federal grants and programs that will help to preserve these natural advantages, as well as to sustain and grow the economy that makes essential services and desirable amenities possible. 

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?  

A: My top priority will be addressing the needs of the people who provide the county’s workforce, and, to quote the famous line from “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

If we are to attract and retain the workforce that provides us with the essential services we need and the staffing for local businesses to thrive, affordable housing is critical, as well as reliable public transit and accessible child care.

It is the county’s job to explore every avenue available to make these things happen. Only then can we live up to the county motto “Quality of life is everything” … for everyone.

District 4

In the fourth district, Democrat Jeff Boda is running against Republican Rich Ginop. District 4 consists of Littlefield Township and Springvale Township.

Ginop did not respond by press time.

Jeffery Boda

Jeffery Boda

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession

A: Aanii or Hello, My name is Jeffery Boda, I am 43-years-old and I am currently employed with the tribe I belong to, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians as a gaming inspector in the regulatory department. I have been with the LTBB Enterprise since 2001, when I was hired at Victories Casino as a maintenance worker.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?

A: My wife, Patti, and I have made Emmet County our home since we bought our house in 2006, but I’ve lived in Northern Michigan my entire life. I grew up in Brutus and graduated from Pellston High School (Go Hornets!) in 1997.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: This is my first foray into public office.

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: After speaking with a few people in the local Democratic Party, particularly District 7’s current county commissioner Matt Koontz, I decided that the people of District 4 deserve a choice in who represents them on the board of commissioners. There hasn’t been a Democratic candidate in years, according to the digital files of Emmet County’s website. Being a voter myself, I felt that only having a single option isn’t how democracy happens. The people deserve a choice as I am a big believer in individuals not only having but also expressing their right to choose.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: The biggest challenges that Emmet County faces have been laid out in both surveys regarding the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Our county residents are in desperate need of affordable and dignified housing. They want long term, sustainable public transportation. And they have a need for affordable child care that is available at a price point that fits within their strained budgets.

I don’t know that it’s something that can be done better, but making sure that we are utilizing the ARPA funds that have been allocated to us, approximately $4.5 million, to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Some funds have already been earmarked for transportation and that is a great first step.

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?

A: Emmet County’s greatest strength is, and always will be, its people. Our community members are constantly working together to be there for each other. I scroll through the Emmet County Helping Hands group page on Facebook often, and the amount of people that are willing to go out of their way to help each other is heartwarming and inspiring. We need to make sure that we are supporting our year round residents, they are the strength that powers our tourist economy and have helped Michigan as a whole become the leader in economic recovery in the nation.

The county as a whole is doing great things. Repairing or completely restructuring local roadways that I personally use in my home of District 4. The Road Commission recently completed restructuring a section of Powers Road and there are plans to repair the entry to Camp Petosega in 2023. In fact, they are in the middle of a five-year plan to fix miles upon miles of roadways that will benefit all of our residents. Another big win for our locals happened at the Oct. 10 board of commissioners meeting, they approved the funding requests to distribute the senior millage funds to help our rapidly growing senior population. As our locals continue to age within our county borders, it is paramount that they receive the help they deserve through our wonderful established local programs.

A large part of these wins have been from not only the open-mindedness but also the level-headed approach commissioners Matt Koontz of District 7 and Neil Ahrens of District 2 have taken while on the board. I appreciate the things that they have done for our local residents, and I look forward to hopefully working with both of them to continue to provide the best service we can for our friends and neighbors. And I would be remiss to not mention how the county will miss commissioner Charlie MacInnis’ focus on service and transparency as he has decided to not run again to represent the people of District 3.

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?

A: My priorities would be to make sure that our local government is working appropriately for our locals, so they are not only listened to, but heard. That is what I believe local government is for, working to improve the lives of its people. And they have been vocal with their concerns: they want a substantial amount of our allotted ARPA funding for housing, transportation and child care. We as a board would need to be sure that those needs are met for our locals, we absolutely should be working towards providing for them as their elected officials.

I would also want to use the funding that has been set aside for Emmet County from the Northern Michigan Regional Entity (NMRE) to set up both a drug court and a veterans drug court. I have personally witnessed the benefits of family members and close friends going through Cheboygan County’s drug court and it is absolutely the time for us to take care of our county residents in the same compassionate, caring manner. Drug courts cut down on the rates of recidivism and help participants be free of the revolving-door of being in and out of the system, reduce the overall substance abuse among its participants, and participants also have a higher rate of rehabilitation. Our residents deserve all of that and more.

In conclusion I hope that you get out and vote. I think you should vote Blue, but even if you don’t, that’s your choice. Having attended Center 4 Change’s Anatomy of an Election Roadshow, I have the utmost faith in our township clerks and their staff to continue to provide all of us a fair and safe election.

No matter how you cast your ballot, together we can make democracy work for us by exercising our right to choose. Either by sending your ballot through the mail, dropping it off at one of our safe and secure drop boxes located at your local township office, or standing in line with your friends and neighbors on Nov. 8.

Miigwetch or Thank you for your time.

District 5

In the fifth district, Democrat Cyril Drier is running against Republican Brian Gutowski for the seat, which is currently occupied by Dave Bachelor. This district includes Bear Creek Township’s Precinct 2 and Precinct 3.

Cyril Drier

Cyril Drier

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession

A: Hi my name is Cyril (pronounced “earl” with an “s” sound in front of it … an old family name) Drier. I recently turned 57 and retired following a 30-year career in commercial banking that started after my wife and I moved to Minnesota and ended in January here in the Tip of the Mitt. I have three young adult children all graduated from Petoskey High School and going on into various career levels, including a software developer, a medical student, and one looking to further his education or enter a trade.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?

A: I was born in Petoskey and raised in North Emmet where I’ve had family since the turn of the century 1900. After graduating from Pellston, spending time in the U.S. Army as an MP, and going to college at NCMC and LSSU, my wife and I moved to Minnesota for 14 years where I got into banking. We then moved back to Emmet County, where we’ve lived in our Bear Creek Township home since 2005.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?)

A: No, my first time running for public office.

Q: Why are you running for office?

A: As a retired career commercial banker, I have a broad base of experience and knowledge in economic, financial, and management understanding. I’ve worked through economic ups and downs almost effortlessly. While in management I worked at length with boardroom oversight and with regulators ensuring we were compliant with applicable standards and laws while operating soundly. I also work with a publicly funded nonprofit board where I’ve been involved for 12 years, currently as the board president, providing independent oversight. I have extensive experience relating to decision making, consensus building and understanding numerical and written reports. I am running for office to bring this complete range of knowledge to the county board.  

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: I could mention things like housing and workforce challenges but everyone knows that and folks are rightfully scrambling on something that should have been addressed long before now, across the country so we’re not in that alone. Every decision and vote should be looking at solving those things as best as we can to try and catch up to the problem. However, the biggest challenge I see is meandering through the ideological and social political chatter coming at government operations daily, when we have much better things to spend our time and efforts on. Sitting in township meetings with the public sparring over library books, and county meetings sparring over the public transportation divide, election processes like some wanting to take away drop boxes and go back to hand counting ballots, health department pandemic responses, and so on. Filtering that out when appropriate is a tremendous challenge, and too often more mentally taxing than the collection of monies and properly spending them. 

Something I believe we could do better is, as a committed and collective group, look more at the county as a whole and not have district, township, village and city divisions, so clearly evident in the transportation discussion and road qualities across the county. Being from North Emmet where I have many friends and family and I own old family property, yet living in Bear Creek for 17 years on the edge of Petoskey enjoying the “city life,” I’ve witnessed the us versus them mentality from both sides and appreciate it enough to know we can do better for Emmet County as a more committed whole. It’s not deplorable how we typically interact, but I do believe we could do better, making Emmet County better.

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?  

A: Emmet County is a beautiful place to be, cut and dried. We have a great educational system including our local gem NCMC, a wide range of health care options for most needs, and no major crime concerns. Plus we have a very solid tax base given our size and rural location not every county enjoys by any stretch of the imagination. I think we do very well to keep Emmet County attractive in most regards, causing people to want to be here whether it’s for a short visit, a season, or a lifetime.

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?

A: Do everything I can to support affordable housing, workforce and local business support as a broad topic which could include many subheadings, invest in our infrastructure across the county protecting the natural beauty everyone here enjoys, and above and beyond all else be a great steward when it comes to conservatively sharing taxpayer resources around the county and providing professional independent county oversight. As a retired banker looking at financial information, dollars and numbers so many years, those things are fun and interest me most of all and I’m very good at making it all balance out, fully disclosed and understood.

Brian Gutowski

Brian Gutowski

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession  

A: My name is Brian Gutowski and am the Republican candidate for District 5 County Commissioner. I am a professional engineer in the State of Michigan as a civil engineer and am 57 years old.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?  

A: I moved to Emmet County in 1995 as the engineer-manager of the Emmet County Road Commission, which I retired from at the end of August of this year.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: This is my first run at public office. I did successfully run for president of the Northern Association of Road Commissions as well as the statewide self-insurance pool for road commissions, which I served for the past 12 years.

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: Over the past 27 years, I have had the pleasure on interacting with the residents, business owners, townships, cities and nearly every department of the county. I want to continue serving the community I have called home for the last three decades. I feel I am uniquely qualified to be county commissioner.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: One of the biggest challenges facing the county, include affordable housing. The average working person has a difficult time finding a place to live in Emmet County due to the high cost of housing. The result causes many jobs to go unfilled due to the travel time many of the workers have to travel to get to work because the affordable housing is in other counties. The county board can help by allowing smaller housing footprints to make the housing more affordable to workers.

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?  

A: Emmet County is and will continue to be a desirable destination for people throughout the country to visit. With the outstanding skiing, golf courses, lakes and rivers, hiking opportunities, campgrounds, first class medical facilities, restaurants and welcoming cities, Emmet County is truly one of the best places in the country. The county of Emmet has excellent staff as well that run the various departments.  

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?  

A: I hope to represent the residents of District 5 and continue to make Emmet County one of the best places anywhere.

District 6

In the sixth district, Republican incumbent David White is being challenged by Democrat Jaime Brants. The sixth district includes Resort Township and City of Petoskey Ward 3.

Jaime Brants

Jaime Brants

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession  

A: My name is Jaime Brants. I am 45 years old and work as a regional organizer for the Michigan Democratic Party. I have more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry in many positions, which gives me the unique perspective of our local businesses and employees during this labor crisis. I have a master’s in industrial-organizational psychology from Adler University. Adlerian psychology supports the health of the individual through the health of the community. I genuinely believe this and that we can continue to improve the health of our community so that Emmet County residents can continue to thrive and flourish.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?  

A: I am a Petoskey native. I moved out of state for a short time and returned to Petoskey in 2004. My husband, Sean, and I live in Petoskey and take frequent advantage of the nearby Bear River Recreation Area with our dog, Minty.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: I ran for Petoskey City Council in 2021 but was not elected. 

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: I have a passion to serve my community. I’m running because I see too many Emmet County residents struggling. Every time I look online, I see people looking for housing and what little they are finding is far too expensive for the average working family. I see people looking for rides to work, to the college, to the grocery store.  I see people looking for child care so they can go to work. Finding solutions to these problems will help our citizens thrive, our businesses grow, and attract outside industries to the area. 

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: The biggest challenges in Emmet County are affordable workforce housing, public transit, and child care. Our businesses are experiencing staffing shortages due to these three issues. We cannot promote a healthy local economy if we don’t address these issues and help people get to work. 

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?  

A: Emmet County is one of the most beautiful counties in Michigan. It is a highly desirable place to live and we have created parks and green spaces that highlight the beauty. Although we share the Health Department of Northwest Michigan with many counties, it is a huge asset and great resource for the residents of Emmet County. They work to keep our community and environment healthy and safe in so many ways beyond immunizations and licensing and permits for area restaurants. 

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected?  

A: As a commissioner, I would work to create opportunities for truly affordable housing in Emmet County. The link between affordable housing and transportation to economic development can be addressed with public transit. I am strongly in favor of creating a transit authority for a sustainable transportation option for the residents of Emmet County.  I would work with state government to help reliable local people to cut through the red tape of opening child care centers. I would work to find business development opportunities that would diversify our business community. Emmet County is a highly desirable place to live and no shortage of quality talent who would love to live and work here. The county commission has the advantage of offering lower prices on county-owned land to new developments.

David White

David White

Q: Introduce yourself, including age and profession  

A: My name is David White and I am running for reelection to the Emmet County Board of Commissioners from District 6. I am 66 years old and am a retired 40-year municipal administrator.

Q: How long have you lived in the community?  

A: I have lived in Emmet and Charlevoix counties for 26 years. Seven of those years have been in District 6.

Q: Have you ever run for public office before? (If incumbent: How long have you held this position?) 

A: I have served on the board of commissioners for four years. I am the board chair for this year.

Q: Why are you running for office?  

A: I am running for office to continue to serve the residents of District 6 and Emmet County.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the county today? What could the county government do better? 

A: The county has many important issues facing it today. Always on the forefront is our need for housing for the people who work and want to live full time here. Second is addressing a major contamination at our airport. The airport is a major economic hub in our county and we must continue to keep it viable. Improving and maintaining our wonderful parks and trail system that is known worldwide. Continuing to address expanded transit options with the systems we now have in place.

Regarding the question what can the county do better, the county must continue to strive to do all its many functions better with oversight from the board.

Q: What are the county’s greatest strengths? What is the county doing well?  

A: In Emmet County its greatest strength are the people of Emmet County. The area we live in here in Emmet County is admired around the world and we should be proud. Our world class recycling program a leader in the field. The county employees continue to be a strength and perform their many jobs daily with little or no recognition. 

Q: What will be your top priorities, if elected? 

A: If I am reelected my top priorities will be to work to see the bike and walking trail that collapsed along the shore on U.S. 31 to be replaced. We must continue to work with our local business community and promote skilled trade training to those looking to enter those fields. Our population continues to age we must offer jobs and housing options to our younger generations. I will also continue to work to maintain Emmet County as one of the leading counties in the state. 

— Contact reporter Tess Ware at tware@petoskeynews.com. Follow her on Twitter, @Tess_Petoskey.

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