Traverse City News and Events

Commission Race, Bond Proposals Decided By Narrow Margins

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 8, 2017

Only 28 votes separated winning and losing candidates in the Traverse City commission race Tuesday, which saw incumbents Michele Howard and Tim Werner reelected and newcomer Brian McGillivary unseat Gary Howe on the board.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, Michele Howard was the night’s top vote-getter, earning 2,662 votes. Howard was followed by McGillivary, who earned 1,857 votes. Werner claimed the last of the three open city commission seats with 1,797 votes.

Werner narrowly edged out the remaining two candidates, including Howe – who, with 1,769 votes, lost reelection by 28 votes – and newcomer Jeff Leonhardt, who earned 1,738 votes. Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers ran unopposed to defend his seat and won another term as mayor. In total, 3,650 of Traverse City’s 12,181 registered voters came out to the polls, or just under a 30 percent turnout.

The commanding lead earned by Howard in an otherwise tightly contested election gave her “confidence” she’s made the right decisions in office since being appointed to the board last December, she says.

“I feel official now,” she says. “I feel really excited. To have the voters’ overwhelming approval makes me feel like I’ve been doing a good job, and makes me look forward to doing it for another four years.”

While Werner says he appreciates “the opportunity to continue working hard for the city and moving the city forward in an inclusive way,” he also says he has “mixed” emotions about the election results. “I’m disappointed in the city’s loss of Commissioner Howe,” says Werner. “He was a very valuable asset, which I think more citizens will realize as time passes.”

While Howe expresses disappointment in the election outcome, he says he is “proud of a campaign well-run and a four-year term as city commissioner” that included his involvement in hiring City Manager Marty Colburn, redesigning Eighth Street, moving the Boardman Lake Trail forward, and passing an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance. “I want to continue to work on housing,” says Howe of his plans going forward. “I think it is a critical issue in terms of building a community that’s inclusive. It’s not something four years ago I expected to be occupying so much of my time, but it turns out it is, because it’s tied to so much that’s important to the community.”

Howe and Werner were among several commissioners and voters who questioned the presence of campaign signs for McGillivary and Leonhardt placed next to polling stations in Traverse City Tuesday. City Clerk Benjamin Marentette confirms some signs were removed from the city’s right-of-way in tree lawns near precincts. While campaign materials are allowed near polling stations as long as they are 100 feet or more away, Werner says he saw several instances where he felt the policy was violated.

“We like to talk about small town Traverse City, and ideally an election should be a competition of ideas, not a competition of who can be the sneakiest, who can influence voters through psychology last-second before they step into the polls,” says Werner. A late-stage political action committee that formed to support McGillivary and Leonhardt also provided a last-minute funding boost, with campaign finance disclosure information not available publicly until after the election, Howe says.

McGillivary acknowledges being aware of the PAC and hearing about signs being placed by supporters near polling stations, but emphasizes his campaign had no affiliation with the PAC and that campaigning near stations is legal as long as the 100-foot rule is followed. “I think some people were surprised you could display a campaign sign outside a voting precinct, but it’s legal as long as they’re beyond 100 feet,” he says. “I was at a precinct all day shaking hands…we paced it off, and we were well beyond the 100 feet. Just because (other candidates) didn’t think of something, it somehow becomes dirty politics…it’s much ado about nothing.”

McGillivary says all five commission candidates were “campaigning hard” in a “very close election,” and that he expects to see Howe and Leonhardt still remain active in local politics. He says the new makeup of the commission offers “some diverse opinions,” and that he’s looking forward to “serving the residents of Traverse City” and working with Howard, Werner and the rest of the board.

“I’ve known most of these people for a number of years, and I can work with all six of them,” says McGillivary.

In closely contested city elections, candidates separated by fewer than 50 votes are able to request a recount at a cost of $25 per precinct, according to Marentette. Candidates separated by more than 50 votes could also request a recount, but at a higher cost of $125 per precinct. Howe and Werner both say they don't plan to pursue a recount, noting that ballots are tabulated by computer and that the system is unlikely to produce significant reporting errors.

In other local election news…
Just four votes cost Forest Area Community Schools a $4.5 million bond proposal that would have funded additions and improvements to school property, a new concession stand at the high/middle school, the purchase of school buses, and improvements to athletic fields and facilities. Voters narrowly rejected the 1.44 mill levy by a 325-329 margin. While the proposal had the support of Orange, Springfield, and Fife Lake townships, it lost in Boardman, Garfield, and Union townships. This is the second time the proposal has failed, with the bond losing by a 379-396 margin in May.

Green Lake Township will maintain the “status quo” when it comes to its emergency services after voters approved an eight-year renewal of funding for services but rejected proposals to add advanced life support (ALS) services and construct a new fire station. Residents voted 570-186 to renew the township’s 1.93-mill millage to fund ambulance, fire and EMS services, which is expected to raise $642,040 annually. But voters narrowly rejected a nine-year, 1-mill increase for ALS services by a 372-383 margin, and more soundly defeated a 15-year, .75-mill increase to fund a nearly $3 million fire station by a 342-413 margin. Township Supervisor Marvin Radtke says board members will need to “regroup” on options for enhancing services and updating the fire station, but that the renewal will at least allow the township “to continue as we are” for the time being.

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