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Snippets from political speed-dating at Chelsea Senior Center

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| 4 min read | by Doug Marrin, dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Area residents had a chance to engage our elected officials speed-date style this past Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, at the Chelsea Senior Center. I attended. It was a blast.

Participants had a chance to chat with representatives for three minutes each, and then move on to the next.

Officials include: Chelsea City Manager John Hanifan, Chelsea City Mayor Melissa Johnson, Chelsea School District Assistant Superintendent Marcus Kaemming, State Representative Donna Lasinski, Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Maciejewski, Chris Matus from the office of Senator Gary Peters, Dexter Township Supervisor Harley Rider, State Senator Lana Theis, and Chelsea City Police Chief Ed Toth, and Lima Township Supervisor Craig Maier.

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Here are a few excerpts from my conversations:

Chelsea City Police
Chief Ed Toth

Doug: “The
Chelsea area is undergoing a lot of development. What impact is this having on
law enforcement?”

Chief Toth: “The
biggest complaint we get as traffic issues. People don’t always realize that
M52 is a two-lane road. The traffic counts are between 24,000 and 27,000
automobiles in a 24-hour period. That’s a lot of vehicles. Everybody wants to
know if can divert traffic and so forth. I think patience is the biggest thing.
In the morning rush and then probably starting around 3:30 or 4:00 in the
afternoon, it’s a bottleneck up and down 52. By 6:30 it clears out.

“We’re in various neighborhoods making sure people are
stopping for stop signs, adhering to speed limits. Our department’s biggest
complaint is traffic. As more people move in, obviously you have an area that’s
growing in 3.2-square miles. Even in the surrounding areas over the last 25 or
30 years,

“So that is our company’s biggest complaint is traffic. And as more people move in, obviously, you have an area that’s growing 3.2 square miles. So even the surrounding areas and look at over the last 25 or 30 years how many people have moved out here. I know some of those potential subdivisions that are scheduled, whether they’re in town, or there are a couple that are just outside of town there’s an impact on traffic and the number of people that are coming through town.”

John Hanifan, Chelsea
City Manager

Doug: “Is Chelsea
growing too fast?”

John: “I wouldn’t
say that. I would say that population-wise we’ve only grown a couple of
percentage points over the last decade or so. In surrounding areas, that can be
a dramatically different story. Moving forward, we all have to be mindful that
all levels of government – townships, the state, the city – all of us need to
work together. Quality of life is the most critical thing for anybody.

“And at what point does growth impact quality of life? In some cases that can enhance it. In schools, for example, more people means more kids in the schools which means more revenue for them to do what they do. But everything has a critical mass, right? I don’t think Chelsea schools want 4,000 kids. Chelsea doesn’t want to be a city of 40,000 people or even 20,000 people. I don’t think we’re growing too fast. I think we need to continue to grow and when we grow, grow smart.”

Chelsea School
District Assistant Superintendent Marcus Kaemming

Doug: “On
Wednesday there was the bomb threat. Are there any changes being made to school
security as a result?”

Marcus: “We have
a district crisis response team. We have four categorical groups: One is about
being prepared. The next two are about right before an event happens and then
during the event. The fourth one that most people forget about is what’s our
corrective actions necessary? We’re in that stage right now.

“The biggest thing for us is people always want information
fast. We want information accurate for the safety of the kids. So fast isn’t
always the best. When you watch social media, How come I’m hearing about this from my kid and Snapchat? Well,
that might not even be true information that you’re hearing from kids. So we
absolutely are going back to reflect on this to make sure we communicated
effectively and we protected our environment.”

State Senator Lana
Theis

Doug: “What are
your priorities for governmental programs?”

Senator Theis: “That’s
a pretty generic question. It really depends on the program. So here’s how I
approach my governmental worldview: when I was running for office, there were a
few things that I would refuse to change because that’s just my nature. There
are things that I just can’t change. I am a pro-life individual. If they wanted
somebody who wasn’t pro-life, they needed to elect somebody else. I can’t
change that about me.

“Then, as we move beyond that there are those things that are specific policy ideas, like our government programs. So then what is the proper role of government within that? Is this a state-level issue? Is it a township or local, municipal level? Is that a federal issue? So whether or not I support it might be that I’m not opposed to the program, per se, but I’m opposed to program at that particular level. It might be something that’s handled at the local level, as opposed to the state level.

“It depends on what it is and whether or not it’s within the
proper role of government. If it’s within the proper role of government, and we’re
at the right level, then I need to look at what the legislation specifically
says. So I read the bills that come before me, I read all of them. That can be
for me, either in the House or the Senate. I spend 10 to 20 hours a week
reading just in order to do that. I sit on seven different committees so it’s
an extraordinarily difficult thing to do and takes a significant amount of
commitment. But for the generic (question), ‘What do you feel about programs?’,
the answer is it depends on all of those things.”

State Representative
Donna Lasinski

Doug: “What core
values do you use in guiding your political endeavors?”

Representative Lasinski: “That, for me, is a pretty easy question. I think for some people that may be a bit tougher question. But for me, I always talk about how I was raised in the model of the Good Samaritan. I was always raised to reach out to help the other. I was always raised to make sure that the kid in class always had lunch. I was always raised in a service model.

“And so for me, as I grew up and was raising my family, it
just became second nature to me to volunteer at the school. I did respite
service for or older adults who are caring for a loved one. I’ve always been
engaged in those ways. I then began to understand how community and government
played a role in the life that my husband and I were able to provide for our
family. So my path from a PTO mom to the Ann Arbor School Board to now service
in the legislature just keeps coming as an extension of that desire to be a
helpful member of the community.”

Dexter Township
Supervisor Harley Rider

Doug: “How do you handle all the criticism that comes with a public office?”

Harley: “Two things: one is I can’t take anything personally. Even if they’re attacking me personally, generally, they’re attacking the system through me. So I don’t take it personally. I understand people’s complaints are generally based that something’s wrong or that they see as wrong with the system. The second thing is that I try to fix the system if there is in fact something wrong with it.

“That’s why I like local government better than any other form of government because it’s the government closest to the people. It’s where I feel that I can actually do some good, where I can actually help people and make my community better, and it’s rewarding. So I don’t get a lot of thank-yous, but I’m not in it for the thank yous. I’m just in it for the idea that if I can make my community better. If somebody gets upset at the system then let’s try to find out if the system is broken or how to fix it.”


A big thanks goes out to everyone who showed up, citizens and officials. While the crowd was lighter than I expected, those running the show looked at this event as a trial run with plans for more in the future.


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