By JORDAN TRAVIS
News Staff Writer
ALPENA - Voters got a chance to hear candidates for various local and state offices answer questions Tuesday evening at a candidate forum held downtown.
The Alpena County League of Women Voters hosted candidates for a state House of Representatives district, Alpena County prosecutor, two seats on the Alpena County Board of Commissioners, and a position for Alpena Township trustee. Each candidate had a time limit to answer written questions submitted by members of the audience, with LWV board member Dottie Haase asking the questions.
Ken Hubbard and Nicholas Hein, candidates for the 106th state House of Representatives, were the first to answer questions.
Hubbard said Northeast Michigan has a persistent problem in keeping its youth. In order to promote jobs in Northeast Michigan, area communities need to provide core services like solid education and good infrastructure. Getting back some of the sales tax dollars taken away from local government can help.
"Those are the things that businesses look at when they want to locate in an area," he said. "They need to have places where their employees to have good schooling for their children" among other amenities.
Hein agreed, and said he would work to promote the district's workforce as its representative.
"There's people around here who want to work," he said. "We have great people. We have a great work ethic in this area."
Hein also said he supported using tax abatements to help small, local businesses.
Democratic candidates for Alpena County prosecutor were next.
Incumbent Ed Black said he would continue to deal with the county's drug problem from both ends, both in criminal prosecution and crime prevention. He's involved in drug abuse prevention programs, and his office worked to establish a drug court with the Alpena County District Court.
"You have to make sure you're involved in children's lives to make sure you can try to impact them before the criminality starts, before the initial issue starts," he said.
Don Dowling Jr. would focus on prosecuting violent offenders to full extent of law. He criticized Black for agreeing to plea bargains where defendants face a lesser charge in exchange for a guilty plea.
"Mr. Black indicates that, 'Why try the case when you get the same thing with the sentencing guidelines,'" he said. "That just simply isn't so."
Criminals benefit from plea bargains because they serve less time for pleading to a lesser charge, Dowling said.
Black denied Dowling's assertion about his practices, and said his office has sought and received five life sentences for defendants in the four years he's been in office.
Bill Peterson, one of four candidates for Alpena County commissioner representing two separate districts, said his three priorities would be to increase cooperation between the county and its township governments, move commission meetings to the evening when they're more accessible to the public, and examine its committees. The county could possibly save money by eliminating or combining certain committees, if feasible.
Lyle VanWormer said his priorities would be to get the county back on a balanced budget, and continue to work to grow the county in the area.
"I think the next two years in Alpena County are going to be very, very critical," he said, adding the county's finances will continue to be a major issue.
Robert Adrian agreed, and said the county will be facing a budget crunch and a challenge in serving its residents.
"We will need to take care of our people here, and take care of our infrastructure," he said.
When asked about the intergovernmental council's importance, Kathy Thomas said she believed the meetings to be good for the county. She participated in them and would do it again, but the council needs to avoid falling apart like it has recently.
Lastly, candidates for Alpena Township trustee answered questions, several of whom aimed at ongoing problems in the area.
Fred Sterns said he's been following the drainage issue within the township, and believes it's a problem that extends beyond the areas around Thunder Bay River. As such, it's not something that can be addressed by a special assessment district.
"This is a serious problem that the individual landowners can't solve themselves. It's a township-wide problem," and one way to help is to develop a comprehensive drainage plan.
Brenda Fournier said a millage is needed to fix the issue, even though she understands people are upset and it'll be an added financial burden on them.
"I really believe this is going to be the only way the township is going to get the money to deal with the drainage issue," he said.
On the issue of consolidating with another township, Chuck LeFebvre said he didn't think it would work. It would be impractical, and the township has issues like "so many individual prongs" that need to be addressed. However, sharing services to save money would be a possibility.
John Norton III echoed others when he said he opposed consolidation because each township has its own identity. Each township is unique, he said, adding he'd be open to sharing services with neighboring governments.