Traverse City News and Events

Korn Won’t Seek Reelection as Garfield Supervisor; Township to Consider Position Changes

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 23, 2024

Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn – who has held his position since 2008 – will not seek reelection this year. Korn, 71, tells The Ticker he’s ready to step back from the demanding role and take more personal time for himself. Township trustees, noting the significant amount of growth Garfield Township has experienced over the last 16 years, are exploring the possibility of creating a full-time township manager staff position and scaling back the supervisor role to part-time – a move they’ll decide on prior to the April 23 primary filing deadline for supervisor candidates.

Trustees first discussed the staffing proposal at their January 9 meeting and could revisit it again at their meeting tonight (Tuesday), according to Korn. Korn told trustees that he was “very fortunate” when he was first elected in 2008, because the recession that occurred during that time meant township development and growth were essentially at a standstill. “It was very, very slow,” he said. “I had zero knowledge of how to run a township, but I was able to learn it. It was still like drinking from a hose.”

Almost two decades later, Garfield Township is experiencing significant economic and development growth. According to U.S. Census data, it’s the fastest-growing municipality in Grand Traverse County – itself the second fastest-growing county in the state (Ottawa is first). Between 2000 and 2010, Garfield’s population grew from 13,840 to 16,256, a 17.5 percent increase. The township grew at an even faster rate over the last decade, rising from 16,256 in 2010 to 19,499 in 2020 – a 20 percent increase. As of 2021, Garfield had an estimated population of 20,274, representing more than one-fifth of the total population of Grand Traverse County.

The township supervisor is a “strong supervisor,” Korn says, serving as Garfield’s chief legislative and executive officer. But the only qualifications required to serve in that role are just “getting one more vote” than the other candidates, he says. That worries Korn and other board members in terms of long-term township stability. “At some point, you’re going to get somebody who’s unqualified and possibly has intentions that are not what you want,” Korn told trustees.

The board discussed the possibility of scaling the supervisor role back to part-time – and scaling the position’s salary back – ahead of the November election. Board members agreed it’d only be fair to do so prior to the April 23 filing deadline, so that any candidates for supervisor would have a full understanding of the job description, anticipated hours, and salary before deciding whether to run. Township officials are simultaneously exploring creating a full-time staff position of township manager. That person would report directly to the board and be hired and fired by trustees. The manager would likely take on some – if not many – of the responsibilities held by the supervisor now. Multiple trustees expressed support for the concept, believing it will create stability by having a consistent administrator in place with professional qualifications to oversee key township affairs who is not subject to a public vote every four years.

“I’m really happy to see us looking at this,” said Trustee Molly Agostinelli. “We were at a $3 million budget when (Korn) came in. We’re over $5 million now...we are a vibrant, moving township. The continuity of having a manager, I think, would be a good thing for this township.” Township Treasurer Chloe Macomber agreed. “There’s a lot of benefits to it for sure,” she said, adding it would introduce “another level of professionalism to the township that would be continuous throughout elections.” But Macomber stressed the importance of “carefully and intentionally” reviewing the data and costs and thinking through both positions and their job descriptions before proceeding. “I just want to make sure if we do it, that it’s set up properly,” she said.

At least one potential candidate for the manager role has already emerged. While Korn says he doesn’t intend to apply for the job, Trustee Chris Barsheff – jail administrator and captain for the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office – told trustees he may have to recuse himself from the discussion at some point due to his interest in retiring from the Sheriff’s Office and applying for the manager position. Barsheff said he’s been developing his career with the intention at some point of running for township supervisor, but may instead put his “name in the hat for the manager of Garfield Township” if the role is created.

Still, nothing has been set in stone regarding either position. Korn has been tasked with outlining his responsibilities and proposing to trustees which of those would be best to stay with the supervisor and which might be shifted to a manager. The board will also need to consider statutory requirements for those roles. Korn told trustees he has an “open mind” and could be persuaded in a different direction if research shows a manager isn’t the right approach for Garfield Township. Other trustees echoed those comments, with more discussion planned for the coming weeks ahead of a potential vote on a proposal. “We don’t want to do this hastily,” said Trustee Denise Schmuckal.

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