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4 Democrats square off in crowded ballot

July 23, 2014
JOHN PEPIN - Journal Staff Writer ( , Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Four candidates are running in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for an open seat on the Marquette County Board.

The candidates include Marquette residents Karen Alholm, Erik Booth and Dwight Brady and Randall Yelle of Sands Township. The winner of the race will face the winner of a Republican primary battle between Nick Smaby and Mark Curran, both of Marquette.

The vacancy was created when incumbent Gregory Seppanen decided not to seek re-election. The term of office is two years. District 6 includes Precinct 2 in the city of Marquette and Sands and Chocolay townships.

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The candidates were each asked to provide some details about their backgrounds they think voters should know, why voters should choose them and what top three priorities they would have in office if elected. Word limitations were imposed on answers.

Alholm described her background saying: "I am a lifelong resident of Marquette County. After graduating from Northern Michigan University I worked for the Marquette County Board of Commissioners for several years. My interest in the county board stems, in part, from that period.

"I then attended Thomas Cooley Law School, serving on its Law Review. I practiced law for 23 years before retiring. I am an ALS -Upper Peninsula Board member and and intern mediator with Marquette Alger Resolution Service."

On why voters should select her, Alholm said: "My training and experience as an attorney has taught me the importance of analyzing facts and issues. Additionally, I am willing to listen to and consider opposing or multiple positions on matters before the county board with an open and fair mind. I will work hard to serve the people of Marquette County.

"I have been attending recent county board meetings, met with some local and county elected officials and have been reviewing the current county budget to become familiar with ongoing county issues. I look forward to learning more about the operations and needs of county departments and county funded programs in order to become an effective county commissioner."

Alholm detailed her three priorities if elected.

"A majority of county services supported by county monies are mandated or required by the state, such as the courts. The jail is such a service, and thus its effective operation should be a priority. Unfortunately, long-term jail overcrowding has disrupted the smooth running of not only the jail, but the courts and related county departments. The county board has explored options to solve or alleviate the problem in the past but it seems to be unresolved.

"I also support county efforts to avert threatened tax revenues as hundreds of thousands of dollars to county and local governments is at stake. Specifically, the county board supports legislation to amend the tax formula for big-box stores (aka dark stores). Currently, a box retail store such as Lowe's may be assessed as a vacant rather than an occupied store, resulting in a huge loss of needed tax dollars. That will have a significant negative financial impact on county and local governments if allowed to stand.

"The county is also contributing county monies to oppose efforts by We Energies to greatly reduce the personal property tax assessment of its Presque Isle Power Plant. A lower assessment would result in reduced county and local operating revenues.

"Thirdly, I endorse cooperation between county and local governments and Lundin (Mining Corporation) in identifying feasible and safe traffic routes for trucks from Eagle Mine to the Humboldt processing plant. Generally speaking, such cooperation between county and local governments can benefit county residents in numerous ways."

In detailing his background, Booth said: "Most importantly, I am a Marquette native and a U.S. Army veteran. There is no better leadership training than the armed forces and I am extremely proud to have served our country. I am a licensed professional engineer having earned my bachelor's (degree) from Michigan Tech and my master's in organizational leadership from Marian College. I have 12 years of experience in the power industry and have served on many boards and committees within our community.

On why voters should choose him, Booth said: "My experience having served on the board of a financial institution during the 2008 recession - which was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression - will be invaluable as a county commissioner.

"With this knowledge, I'll be able to lead the county as it goes through its own financial crisis which will be created by the tax tribunal's decision of the big-box stores and the loss of revenues from the probable closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant. My understanding of the power industry will be crucial as our community prepares to handle the effects from the closure of the We Energies plant.

"Strong governance at the local level is going to be extremely important in the coming years. It is time for us to take control of our own destiny and elect leaders that have the necessary experience and expertise to meet these challenges and serve our community.

On his priorities if elected to office, Booth said: "My professional experience in strategic planning will be used to focus on the county's plan that was last updated nine years ago. Conditions are significantly changing in our community and that document has sat idle for far too long.

"Most importantly will be the development of a long range financial management plan to minimize the impacts on the changing financial conditions along with the ongoing decreases in revenue sharing from the state government. The commission must be intentional on setting their priorities and this document is essential for the county's future success.

"I'll use my experience in the power industry to lead the county in the development of a regional power solution to ensure reliable and affordable energy for future generations. With the exception of the (Marquette) Board of Light and Power, the residents of the Upper Peninsula are charged the highest electric rates in the state. Those of us on Upper Peninsula Power Co. and Alger Delta already feel the effects of these high electric prices.

"Losing local power generation, especially in a climate as harsh as ours, puts our area at great risk and weakens our local economy. We also need to focus on maintaining local jobs and increasing the economic value of our area by welcoming new business opportunities such as SmartZones. Simultaneously, we must protect and enhance the blue collar jobs that made this area what it is today. We owe it to future generations to be intentional and make trustworthy long term decisions. I'm asking for your support to serve our community."

Brady described his background saying: "My wife, Sharon, and I are both U.P. natives and we feel very fortunate for the opportunity to raise our four children here. During my 22 years in Marquette County, I have lived in the city of Marquette, Sands Township and now Chocolay Township. These are the three main areas that make up District 6. I am a professor at NMU, and I teach courses in multimedia journalism and communications law."

On why voters should vote for him, Brady said: "While my background is in communications, I believe my greatest asset as a commissioner will be listening skills. I will seek input from people with different viewpoints and look carefully at the best available data before making decisions.

"Through my work on the Academic Senate and the General Education Council at NMU, I have learned the value of gathering input from all stakeholders when attempting to implement major changes. As a county commissioner, I will continue to operate in a spirit of inclusion and cooperation with other local units of government and various constituencies in the county.

"I have also served on a statewide council at the request of (former) Gov. (Jennifer) Granholm. These experiences have helped prepare me for serving on the county board. Of the six candidates vying for this seat, I have the endorsement from our current District 6 commissioner, Greg Seppanen, and the Marquette County Labor Council.

Brady outlined his top three priorities for office.

"Mining and logging have long been a part of the history of Marquette County and they will certainly be a part of our future. However, I am committed to seeking opportunities to broaden our economic portfolio. For example, I see opportunities to build upon the growing number of jobs being created at K.I. Sawyer.

Currently, the Sawyer complex is home to hundreds of family supporting jobs. In my discussions with Sawyer's Director of Operations Steve Schenden, companies like Biogenic Reagents are demonstrating cutting edge technology can be developed here in Marquette County, and this bodes well for attracting similar companies.

I also see the potential for growing our economic base through newly established "SmartZone" partnerships between the city, county and NMU.

"Another big issue in District 6 is the water supply for residents using wells. According to longitudinal data gathered from 1980 until May of this year, the Sands Plains Aquifer has dropped nearly 15 feet. This is of particular concern to Sands and Chocolay Township residents who get their water from private wells. I look forward to working with the Marquette County Water Study Group to work toward solutions regarding this issue.

"Finally, given the tenuous situation of the Presque Isle Power Plant, I believe we need to develop a comprehensive plan for local power generation and distribution that will retain jobs and reliable energy well into the future."

Yelle described his background.

"I retired from the U.S. Department of Defense, was president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, and spent time in Washington with Congress and representatives. I have 30 years of government service with Sands Township, and was Chocolay's zoning administrator," Yelle said. "I am currently chairman of both Superiorland Emmaus and the Marquette County Solid Waste Authority Boards, and am the zoning administrator for Sands Township. I have law enforcement experience as a Valley County, Idaho, deputy."

Yelle detailed why voters should select him saying: "Born and raised in Sands Township, I have a strong attachment to my community and want what is best for area residents. I am approachable. I am available for phone calls from citizens and will listen to all comments and concerns, no matter how big or small.

"I have a wide variety of knowledge and experience gained over my years of serving local government and from my career with the Department of Defense. I can draw on this experience to help make fair decisions that will have a positive impact on the citizens of District 6, as well as Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula as a whole."

Yelle answered the question on his top priorities by saying: "I am not running for office with a specific agenda in mind. However, I am concerned with natural resources and the environment, including the Sands Plain Aquifer. This aquifer is the largest in the Upper Peninsula and serves Sands and Chocolay residents, as well as other areas in Marquette County. I also want to make sure that the voice of the people is heard by the county commission, which is why I will make myself available to citizens and their concerns. I believe everyone should have a chance to be heard and I want to be a representative of the people."

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.



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