By Stephen Tuttle | Nov. 4, 2023
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, local elections will be held in many communities across Michigan, including Traverse City. These elections are critically important, but with no statewide or federal offices up for grabs, will likely attract an embarrassingly low voter turnout. It’s a shame.
Local elections have the most direct impact on our lives, dealing often with topics that are narrow, specific, and very local. We will elect candidates who will mostly decide what our neighborhoods look like, how our roads and streets are built and maintained, how our open spaces and natural areas are obtained and nourished, what and where our business districts will be permitted or restricted, how we’ll build and maintain or upgrade our infrastructure, which utilities will provide service, how we receive basics like clean drinking water, what kind of public safety departments we’ll have protecting and rescuing and transporting us, what kind of parks we’ll have, what ordinances and regulations will and will not allow, how much our local taxes will be, and…it’s a pretty long list of decisions being made every day by local elected officials.
Perhaps just as importantly, the folks we elect will remain local. State representatives and senators, by necessity, spend large chunks of their time in Lansing doing the legislative part of their jobs. Federal officeholders vanish into the fog that is Washington, D.C., returning occasionally to great fanfare, fundraising events, and invitation-only “town hall” meetings.
County, township, and city elected officials, though they might occasionally wish they were elsewhere, are never far from their constituents. We see them at the grocery store, on a trail, in line for a movie, at a high school sporting event; they are basically wherever we are all the time, and that makes them more directly accountable. If we’ve been paying attention and can recognize them, we can talk to them directly, and they are pretty much a captive audience. And they hear what we’re saying to each other, too.
So, yes, these local elections are plenty important.
No local issue has generated more talk than housing, or the lack thereof. It is not, however, an especially new problem. Housing has been an issue in the Traverse City area for some time and for dramatically different reasons.
An ABC News story from April of 2009 touted local home prices hitting a 15-year low, with home sales down more than 17 percent from the previous year as the mortgage crisis hit and the economy tanked. But just six years later, in December of 2015, a Detroit Free Press story talked about how a Traverse area housing shortage is hurting the local workforce, especially the construction and healthcare sectors, both of which were then struggling to fill essential job openings.
Traverse City recently enacted zoning changes the Planning Commission and City Commission believe will help alleviate part of the housing shortage by creating more diversity, density, and affordability, though there is scant evidence the changes can do any of that. Maybe they will and maybe they will just create more market rate housing affordable to the affluent unless subsidies are involved at every level.
It is not clear there will ever be a time when Traverse City has sufficient housing in the locations people most desire at the price points they can afford.
The nine candidates for three seats on the Traverse City City Commission all weighed in on the zoning changes, which will allow for smaller residential lots, more homes on standard lots, duplexes and triplexes in previously single-family home neighborhoods, and eliminate the limits on accessory dwelling units (ADU) in what are now backyards.
As always, not every candidate chooses to clearly answer every question on every issue, but based on candidate forums and profiles, candidates Jackie Anderson, Caroline Kennedy, Mary Mills, Merek Roman, and Heather Shaw had various levels of opposition to the zoning changes, while Shea O’Brien and Mitchell Treadwell (the only incumbent in the race) were both strong supporters. Candidates Chris Minkin and Ken Funk were both maybe/maybe not.
Also on the ballot will be a two-parter on whether to spend about three quarters of a million dollars from the principle of the Brown Bridge Trust to purchase land adjacent to the Brown Bridge Quiet Area, money well spent to expand and preserve a spectacular area.
Voters will also be asked to pay for the Traverse City Fire Department to provide emergency medical transportation and necessary equipment, staffing, and facilities. The city currently contracts with a third party vendor. The change would be more expensive but would dramatically reduce what has become excessive response times from the current vendor.
Finally, be assured these elections will be honest, safe, and secure, overseen by honorable people doing their jobs exceptionally well. Nothing will be rigged and fraud will not determine the outcome—your vote will.