ALPENA - There are three primary races for the Alpena County Board of Commissioners seats in Tuesday's election. Voters in District Nos. 3, 4 and 8 will decide who moves on to the November general election.
District No. 4 will feature a rematch of Republicans, incumbent Lyle VanWormer and Bill Peterson, who ran against one another two years ago. VanWormer, who is chairman on the county's finance committee, narrowly defeated Peterson to win the primary and eventually the general election in 2012.
VanWormer has been a commissioner for eight years. He said his experience is critical in helping the county to move ahead with the advancement of unmanned aircraft business development at the airport, solidifying county finances and continuing the profitable operations at the Montmorency-Alcona-Alpena Landfill in Atlanta. VanWormer sits on the landfill board and the success at the landfill financially has led to the county receiving $100,000 from it this year alone and $340,000 in the last six years.
He said there is still progress to be made at the landfill and he has been front and center in the construction of a gasification plant. He was the commissioner who proposed hiring Explorer Solutions to find a business niche for the airport and has been directly involved in the unmanned aircraft system development project since the beginning. At a recent meeting it was announced progress is being made for development at the airport and announcements could be coming this fall. VanWormer said the experience he has gained in the last eight years, particularly on the finance committee is a plus to the county.
"The unmanned aircraft project is just starting to roll, contrary to what others say. We need jobs and this will give us jobs, but it takes time. This is a big deal. There are announcements coming," VanWormer said. "Being on the board as long as I have I know all of the policies and the ins and outs of how county government needs to run. It takes a long time for someone new to come up to speed, particularly with the budget."
Peterson said if elected he will allow the county department heads have more responsibility and will demand less oversight from the commissioners. He said the staff is dedicated and hardworking and should be allowed to work without someone looking over their shoulder after every move.
"That is a lot of money that is being used on something that could end up being a pie in the sky."
"I just don't like the direction the county is going right now. The commissioners are micro-managing and they should let the department heads, like the sheriff, manage their department. He should not have to go to the finance committee for $200 or $300," Peterson said. "He has a budget, let him go. We don't need to micro-manage. If they do their job, then they should hear from the board, but until then they should just be allowed to do their job."
Peterson said he has a lot of faith in Target Alpena and those working on the unmanned aircraft project, but he wonders if the more than $200,000 that has been invested into it so far, couldn't have been used in another way.
"That is a lot of money that is being used on something that could end up being a pie in the sky," Peterson said. "We went through this before with Boeing and we got nothing. There are things in the works, but that remains to be seen. I would rather see them focus on helping local small businesses with 15 or 20 employees. You need to start from the bottom base and work up."
A pair of Republicans will square off in District No. 3 and No. 4. Two familiar faces who have served on Alpena Municipal Council in the past will face off. Former Mayor Camille Nerkowski and longtime Councilman Dave Karschnick are running to fill the seat that is vacant after Tom Mullaney chose to retire.
Nerkowski said her time on the council and as mayor has prepared her to be able to work well with others and to communicate well with other local government entities. She said Alpena County is at a critical time in its history. She said there is a great opportunity to create jobs with further development and it is important to work with people like Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krawczak and Economical Development Director Jim Klarich because they share the same passion for a better Alpena as she does.
"I'm starting to see some little bitty cracks in the relationships between local governments and I have been through this when I was mayor and think I have the ability to help bring everyone back together to push toward a common cause. I think to a degree it has to start with the county because the city and townships are in the county," Nerkowski said. "Alpena is at a crossroads right now and I think we have fantastic young people working with the chamber of commerce, Target and the others and they are so motivated. They have fantastic ideas and love Alpena. I think we need to work with them and support their ideas."
Karschnick said his 20-plus years in office has allowed him to be well-rounded in many things. He said working with emergency services tops the list, but that he is also well versed in crafting and following budgets.
"The number one issue facing everyone is funding. I think the county does a good job with what it has," Karschnick said. "With my time on council, the 911 board and all the other committees I've been on, I think I have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer."
Republicans Eric Lawson and Ewald Sommerfield from District No. 8 are familiar with one another, as both interviewed before the board of commissioners last year to be appointed after the death of Rich Fourtier. Lawson won the appointment, but now Sommerfield is making another push for the seat.
Sommerfield said the county needs to focus on education and creating jobs. He said it can't continue to spend the way it has in the past.
"I figure it is my time to step up and do it and pay back my dues," Sommerfield said. "I'm against raising taxes. The county has run its credit card out and it is time to cut some place. You can't keep spending. I don't think we should borrow any more money or raise taxes any more."
Since being named to the board Lawson said he has learned a great deal and continues to do so every day. He said he has established a rapport with the other commissioners and is now comfortable with his role. He said in order to provide residents the services they expect with their tax money, spending is a must, but it must be done carefully and with the public's best interest in mind.
"Even though the recession is technically over we are feeling aftershocks from it. Even though we are bleeding less than what we were, things have not fully turned around yet," Lawson said. "You have to think about every project and every expenditure and see how is it going to be paid for and is it necessary. We can't count on money we might not have. We are entrusted to handle our neighbor's money and we have to do so in a responsible manner, but they expect certain services to be performed and it is our job to deliver."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.