As Downtown newsmagazine has reported on the political turmoil engulfing Bloomfield Township the past two years, my first reaction is that our current approach to relying on party affiliations at the local level is a concept that should be tossed in the dust bin.
I know the first response from party stalwarts on both sides of the aisle will be to posit that the future of government relies on a political party farm system based on, at least in theory, local township officials gaining valuable experience, then starting to move up the ladder through county-level elected office, perhaps progressing to the state level as a state Representative or Senator, and then a select few would some day move on to Congress. Years ago that might have been a good concept, but a couple of factors have changed the playing field and rendered the farm system approach increasingly obsolete.
First, term limits at the state House and Senate level have, as one of many negative impacts, created a situation where those who choose elected public office as a lifetime vocation, but are forced out of a position after a prescribed set of years, have been recycling themselves back down to lower level offices at the county level, thereby disrupting the farm system in which office holders are supposedly groomed for the future.
Then we have the untold and ever-increasing amounts of money being poured into even local campaigns long before the courts opened the floodgates with the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision in January of 2010. Money has always talked, so whens it comes to grooming local officials to move up the proverbial ladder, forget about it. Raise enough funds, hire the right seasoned campaign strategist and you don't need to pay your dues. That became readily apparent when I witnessed a few races several decades ago – Democrat Doug Ross' run for the state Senate and Republican David Honigman's campaign for the Michigan House, just to name a couple of examples. Back then, it was shocking to realize that all of a sudden $250,000 in a campaign became the new norm, then $400,000 and you could successfully garner a place in the state legislature. A more recent example would be congressman David Trott, who came from the business community and now represents a broad district from Oakland County in Washington D.C. because he had the financial juice to run an effective campaign. Now, even a full-time administrative office at the county level will cost you $500,000-$600,000, if not more, depending on the election year and what is taking place at the top of the ticket.
So much for the farm system everyone held out as the best training ground in years past.
A partisan system at the local township government level is certainly not the only reason that turmoil can consume a community like Bloomfield Township, but it certainly is a contributing factor.
Over the years, I have covered or followed from a distance the shake-up of a number of local townships dating back to the late 1970's, starting in Highland Township in the western Oakland area up to the present day, where turmoil still consumes a community like West Bloomfield.
Interestingly, communities like Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester and Rochester Hills – all cities – function just fine without having partisan labels attached to council positions, even though the leaders in each of those communities are all no doubt Republicans, Democrats, or Independents – closeted or not.
That's not to say moving to non-partisan elections at the township level will eliminate politics, which by its very textbook definition is defined as the art and science of winning and holding control over a government. But it may at least start to tone down political upheaval when it does start to develop.
And rest assured you will still have periodic upheaval in local communities; it's almost unavoidable over time, usually based on changing demographics in a community, or as less populated communities increase in density and development level.
But none of those factors really apply in Bloomfield Township, which has been in the throes of conflict since Republican treasurer Dan Devine felt jilted a few years back as then-trustee Leo Savoie was appointed supervisor. Figuratively speaking, Devine was left standing at the altar alone, rather than claiming a spot he thought was his birthright because he diligently worked the GOP chicken and pea circuit dating back prior to his tenure on the county board of commissioners before taking the treasurer post.
Put simply, Devine has made a raw power grab. In the process he has turned a local community on its head – disruptive behavior at board meetings; unfounded allegations that have made Bloomfield Township seem third world in its operations; and alienated a township workforce that has at times had to bear the brunt of the treasurer's misguided claims and criticism.
Devine has managed to assemble a clown car of candidates for all the offices in the August GOP primary election and has unleashed a local election campaign filled with half-truths and innuendos.
The only hope in this election is that Bloomfield Township voters will cast aside any past political party chits Devine has built up over the years and put an end to the local turmoil by rejecting his bid for another term, based on failed performance on the job. Long-time involvement in a political party should not be the deciding factor when it comes to determining who runs the local government.