Grand Traverse County Drain Commissioner Kevin McElyea faces opposition from challenger Daniel Bauer in next week’s August 7 primary to be the county’s public environmental watchdog for the next four years. But a major part of the drain commissioner’s workload – enforcement of local ordinances that protect rivers and lakes – is no longer the office’s responsibility.
This past spring, the County Board of Commissioners voted to move all soil erosion duties to its building inspectors who work in the county’s construction code office. It cited significant cost savings and efficiency in making the move. Opponents, however, cited concerns about negative governmental influence of environmental enforcement.
With the move, also goes a significant chunk of compensation. McElyea, who was first elected in 2004, is making $61,165 this year. However, starting with the next four-year term beginning January 1, 2013, the annual salary is $7,000.
Why? According to the county, before the separation of duties, about 90 percent of the drain commissioner’s time was spent implementing state and local stormwater control and soil erosion ordinances to protect surface waters from the impact of development. The office’s remaining time is spent overseeing the county’s nine public drains and administering the state’s Drain Code. (Its 2011 annual report can be downloaded here.)
Before you head to the polls next week, read up on what the two candidates shared with The Ticker about why they are running and what they think of the county’s recent action:
Kevin McElyea, Current Grand Traverse County Drain Commissioner
Why I run: “I have a lifelong love of the area's land and water. I am dedicated to citizen's expectations of fair and balanced stewardship.”
Biggest challenge ahead: Balancing growth with environmental protection.
Top priorities: Customer service and a balanced approach to resource management that respects property rights.
On losing soil erosion enforcement: “It was the wrong decision by six commissioners that results in a lack of accountability.”
If elected: I will provide a process for customer feedback to implement reasonable customer suggestions; expand hours to better serve the public; recombine the storm water and soil erosion reviews for timelier customer service.
The drain commissioner matters because: “It is the only elected position whose primary purpose is to protect the environment.”
The difference: Experience and education. “I have been a champion of the model stormwater control ordinance that has proven results and has greatly reduced taxpayer expense.”
Of note: McElyea is also a licensed landscape architect who previously ran his own firm, as well as worked for other land planning and engineering firms.
Daniel Bauer, delivers/demos boats, lawn/garden equipment
Why I run: “Our unique environment is admired locally and nationwide. I have the knowledge and ability to be a responsible steward to the community and to be trusted with our natural resources. It is my time to give back.”
Biggest challenge ahead: Re-establishing the working relationships with the public, business owners and other county departments.
Top priorities: Administrate fairly and consistently. Use specialized services when needed for the good of the people. No matter the changes within the county, make sure our environment and natural resources are protected and preserved permanently.
On losing soil erosion enforcement: “I support the decision by the County Board of Commissioners if they believe it would be a smoother and more efficient process. Any future revision to the organizational structure would be managed in a conscientious, comprehensive manner.”
If elected: Re-establish the professionalism of the office by posting regular office hours and being consistently available to the public; regular, thorough inspections of every designated drain and dam will become standard; review current permitting processes to create a system efficient for customers and protective of the environment.
The Drain Commissioner matters because: “[He or she] makes decisions that impact the environment for years to come. Community residents and businesses deserve the peace of mind when looking at our natural resources that no matter how the county changes and grows, my priority is to ensure that our environment never be any less extraordinary.”
The difference: Mayfield Township trustee, then supervisor (1988-2000); received awards for progressive leadership.
Of note: Among his endorsements are Larry Fleis, Grand Traverse County Commissioner and Carl Brown, Grand Traverse Road Commissioner.