Birmingham, Bloomfield Township and Bloomfield Hills voters will be deciding a number of elected offices with the Tuesday, November 3, general election, along with some ballot issues.
On these pages we offer our recommendations on who we think would best serve local residents if elected this November, recognizing that we are just one of many voices in the community, although we like to think we hold some edge with our readers given our track record of closely following government on an ongoing basis.
We relied on candidates' answers to questionnaires we sent to those with contested races as the basis for our recommendations. Readers can find the candidates' responses in the Voter Guide presented in this issue. We also relied on our institutional knowledge of the issues, our familiarity with some candidates and we took time to talk to candidates in races where we judged candidates to be closely aligned on issues.
To get the best elected officials this election, voters must be willing to split their ticket – move between the two major parties on the ballot – when casting votes in a number of races.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
9th Congressional District - Two-year term
When Democrat ANDY LEVIN first ran for this seat in Congress in the 2018 election, we backed him in the general election due to his extensive experience both outside and in the heart of government at the state level, business knowledge in the energy conservation field with his own commercial venture, and his broad understanding of issues. We have not been disappointed. As a first-term House member he has quickly established himself as a hard-working and respected addition to Congress, serving well a district that meanders from Bloomfield Township through south Oakland and into Macomb County. He has clearly earned a second term.
11th Congressional District - Two-year term
(Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills)
We were impressed by Democrat HALEY STEVENS when she first sought this seat in 2018 and her performance during her first term only strengthens our support for her to return for a second term. A Birmingham native who worked as chief of staff of President Obama's Auto Rescue Task Force effort and worked for the White House Office for Manufacturing and Office of Recovery for Automotive Communities and Workers, Stevens has tirelessly worked to bolster the manufacturing community, along with focusing her efforts on education and other issues, in a district that careens from the local area through part of north Oakland and through the west Oakland and Wayne County geography. Voters in this district should be aware that outside forces are pouring huge sums of money into this race to defeat Stevens, and along with her November opponent, would paint her as part of some radical, big-government faction in Congress that is incapable of working across the aisle to get things done – all standard paper from the GOP playbook. We don't buy it and neither should voters. Stevens has her finger on the pulse of the district, has already proven she can form alliances with Republicans in Congress to benefit this district but is not afraid to do battle when necessary to represent it well in a second term.
MICHIGAN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
40th State House District - Two-year term
(Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township)
As the youngest member of the Michigan House of Representative, Democrat MARI MANOOGIAN often suffers criticism because of her youth. We call BS. A product of local schools, Manoogian took her undergraduate and graduate degrees from George Washington University School of International Affairs and did time as an aide to ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations and in the office the late Congressman John Dingell. She currently serves as an assistant whip in the House Democratic caucus, which has definite benefit on issues important to this district. She has proven that she learned the values of hard work instilled in her early on. We felt two years ago that she understood the course corrections that need to be made for Michigan's future, and we heard nothing in this contest that makes us change our position. We look forward to seeing what Manoogian can do in a second term.
County Executive - Four-year term
We have known Republican contender Mike Kowall for decades and have backed him in a number of races over the years, from township supervisor, state Representative and state Senator. Unfortunately, Kowall is running against Democrat DAVID COULTER who was appointed when long-time executive Brooks Patterson passed away. Coulter has done a good job as county executive, which is why even some Republicans have coalesced around him for a full four-year term. We have watched as Coulter was forced to rebuild the staff surrounding the county executive, and we have been impressed. We also appreciated some of the newer, more progressive directions he has planned for the county while still keeping his eye on the ball, as the expression goes, so that Oakland remains the healthy financial government unit to which we all have become accustomed. We said back in the August primary that his skill set was put to the ultimate litmus test when the pandemic hit this spring and he clearly passed. We will repeat what we said in the primary: voters would be best served by returning someone already in the driver seat.
Downtown newsmagazine supported KAREN MCDONALD in the August primary and we are recommending to voters that they choose her in the general election. A former Oakland Circuit Court Judge who resigned to run for this office, McDonald presents the best chance for changes that need to be made in the administration of justice, whether it's addressing needed alteration of the bail system or increased use of alternative sentencing program, as just two examples. We also hold out hope that McDonald will use the office as a bully pulpit to help force changes in state law where necessary. Without question, McDonald is voters' best bet.
County Sheriff - Four-year term
Republican MICHAEL BOUCHARD has served as Oakland County Sheriff for over 20 years, following time in the state legislature. Bouchard commands a workforce of over 1,000 employees and the department actually serves by contract as the policing force for many local communities. He still remains involved at the state level when it comes to necessary legislation while being nationally recognized with his involvement in law enforcement professional groups at the national level, including work with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. We think Bouchard has been progressive when it comes to keeping Oakland County ahead of the curve in terms of new concepts in law enforcement and he has addressed any concerns raised by his opponent in this race. Vote for Bouchard.
County Clerk - Four-year Term
We found ourselves at a crossroad on this endorsement. Incumbent Democrat Lisa Brown has served as county clerk since 2013. On balance, we are told by numerous local clerks, she had been doing a good job, which is why we supported her in 2016. But we are not hearing as much praise this time around, especially since a number of municipal clerks ran out of ballots in the 2018 primary election because Brown's office did not order enough and reportedly rejected requests for more from local municipal clerks. Brown denies this and says no requests were rejected. It's this denial (a basic failure to take responsibility for her office) in the face of what we hear otherwise, along with other concerns, that pushed us over the edge to support a more-than qualified challenger, TINA BARTON, currently the clerk for Rochester Hills. Barton has been involved in municipal clerk work for 15 years, including serving as deputy clerk in Bloomfield Township at one point. Aside from job experience, Barton carries a couple of certifications as a municipal clerk, sits on the state's election security commission and is president of the Oakland County Clerks Association. We hear she is well respected among her peers in Oakland. She has strong management skills, a willingness to interact with local clerks and is clearly not driven by politics, qualities that we are told have been lacking in the office. We also like some improvements she has posed for the county clerk's office.
County Treasurer - Four-year Term
The post of Oakland County Treasurer is an open contest with Andy Meisner, the incumbent, having unsuccessfully sought the position of county executive. The county would be best served by Democrat ROBERT WITTENBERG of Huntington Woods, now finishing his last term in the Michigan House, an experience that will only help as treasurer for the county. Wittenberg has a solid grasp of both how the office operates and the importance of maintaining the AAA bond rating for Oakland County.
Water Resources Commissioner - Four-year Term
JIM NASH, the Democrat incumbent county water resources commissioner, has served Oakland residents well since first taking office in 2013. A noted environmentalist when he first took office, Nash has worked hard to both keep county residents informed on best practices when it comes to protecting the many lakes dotting the county landscape, plus managing the stormwater concerns and delivering on water and sewer services for residents. His goal of promoting collaboration as he deals with county and regional issues has been a real plus for his Oakland constituency. His opponent in this race seems to lack any real knowledge, making it even easier for us to suggest Nash be voters' only choice in this race.
12th District - Two-year Term
(Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township)
We were pleased to see Democrat Kelly Dillaha, a political newcomer, enter this race for county commission as long-time Republican incumbent Shelley Goodman Taub announced she would be leaving this post. So this was a tough endorsement call for us. While we believe new perspectives on some issues are long overdue, we also think that budgetary concerns coming off the COVID-19 pandemic are going to be the priority issue for the county board and administration. So we are throwing our support behind Republican CHUCK MOSS who has been involved currently as a county rep on the Regional Transit Authority and in the past as a city commissioner in Birmingham, a county commissioner and then a member of the state House where he honed his budgeting skills as a member of the appropriations committee. We can only hope that, if elected, Moss will work in a collaborative manner on some of the new program proposals coming out of what we assume will remain a Democratic-controlled board.
13th District - Two-year Term
MARCIA GERSHENSON has long been one of the hardest working members of the county commission since she first held this post in 2004. Without doubt, she has a strong handle on the issues and a willingness to be responsive to residents. So residents should give her another term to serve a small portion of Bloomfield Township.
Township Supervisor - Four-year term
Voters face a dilemma. After decades of steady transitions of power, this year is proving cataclysmic, with former township treasurer Dan Devine ousting current supervisor Leo Savoie in the August Republican primary. But we know Dan Devine. We have followed his career closely, and we do not trust Dan Devine. We question his work ethic and his proclivity towards victimhood. He performed poorly when he was treasurer. More importantly – township employees know Dan Devine, and since the primary election in early August, several have left, including police officers. More are planning to leave, or retire early, including department heads, because they do not want to work in a Devine administration. That leaves us in support of Democrat DANI WALSH, currently a township trustee. Leadership takes time to grow, and we see her potential. We like that she is open to making the supervisor and treasurer positions part time, which would free finances for a possible superintendent position, if a new board determines that is the course the township should take. We agree with her take that Bloomfield Township is overdue to undertake a comprehensive master plan review, as Birmingham is currently doing, and concur that with about 400 employees, having an HR director is a topic worthy of discussion and a decision by the board of trustees. Walsh will engage with both residents and employees, which is an important first step in healing the fractures in the community.
Township Clerk - Four-year term
Current township clerk Jan Roncelli, who is retiring, has long been the gold standard for local municipal clerks, and the next clerk has big shoes to fill. We believe Democrat MARTIN BROOK has the leadership experience and collaborative skills to best step into them. Brook, an international labor attorney and former Bloomfield Hills Schools board member and president, is someone with the skills and talent who can hit the ground running while he learns the specific duties of the clerk's office. He has the maturity that is gained experientially, and we believe he can also be part of the solution of bridging the community divide, or failing that, he has the wisdom to provide perspective and not be intimidated if things cannot be resolved with what appears to be a small group of vocal critics. He has a collaborative background, and is ready to implement solutions. We like his ideas for transparency, such as making posts more public and available. In his answers to our questionnaire, we see the awareness and knowledge needed for this position.
Township Trustee - Four-year term
Four persons are needed to round out the Bloomfield board of trustees. Our advice: In a year where incumbents are suspect and people seem to want to “throw the bums out,” we strongly caution against discarding important institutional wisdom. Incumbent Republican trustees NEAL BARNETT and MICHAEL SCHOSTAK are invaluable members of the board of trustees – Barnett, with 16 years of experience, and Schostak, who is completing his first four-year term. They are each level-headed, balanced, and prioritize residents' concerns – all residents, not just a small faction – over all other concerns. They are consensus builders and collaborators without agendas. For the other two seats, we recommend Republican TIMOTHY ROBERT MEYER and Democrat STEPHANIE FAKIH. Meyer is the former chancellor of Oakland Community College and a former executive deputy of L. Brooks Patterson at Oakland County, bringing strong board and government experience, and would open the township to a wider point of view in terms of operations. Fakih is an attorney who grew up in the township and returned after law school, and wants Bloomfield Township to remain as wonderful as it always has been. Her goal is to remain an analytical, thoughtful and independent voice and to bring a sensible solution to issues.
BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Board Of Education - Six-year term
Two spots on the school board will be determined. For starters, incumbent trustee LORI AJLOUNY is a former student, teacher (for 31-years) and current parent in the district. As a trustee, she has been an effective and moderating voice on the board, and deserves to be returned. We were very impressed with NASH SALAMI, a recent graduate of Seaholm High School who is mature beyond his years. It is refreshing to see someone like him put the effort to give back while still attending college, and his thoughtful perspective could provide a helpful bridge between students, parents and educators.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Board Of Education - Four-year term
Seven candidates are running for three seats on the school board. There are no incumbents in this race. We did not hear back from two of the seven, and a third, Michelle Southward, said she would not participate. The other four candidates are all strong advocates for Bloomfield Hills Schools, and any would be a good addition to the board. We were most impressed with DIMA EL-GAMAL, RENITA JAMES and SIVA KUMAR. All are thoughtful advocates for improving education, mental wellness, diversity and preparing Bloomfield Hills students for their post-high school life. Kumar, in particular, has plans for prudent investments of the district's $200 million bond and ideas of how to implement the strategic plan.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM
Parks And Recreation Bond
Birmingham voters will be asked to approve an $11.25 million parks and recreation bond with an estimated levy of .0485 mills in 2021, for a period of not more than 21 years. It is to replace a retiring bond with a levy of .2064 mills. If passed, the city will use the bond money, the first in the amount of $4.75 million in 2021 and the second series in the amount of $6.5 million in 2024, to upgrade several of the city's 26 parks, recreational facilities, playgrounds and two miles of Rouge River trails, as well as provide necessary improvements to the city's ice arena and irrigation updates to Springdale Golf Course. If money allows, there's the possibility of adding a splash pad and a pickleball court, as well. The city has about 96 percent of bonding capacity available. We recommend a YES vote to continue maintaining the quality of life for Birmingham residents and their guests.
The Oakland County Parks system includes 7,000 acres and 80 miles of trails at 13 county parks, including campgrounds, dog parks, golf courses, water parks, and mobile recreation units. More than two million people visit each year. For the first time in its 54-year history, the county is requesting not only a millage renewal, which helps with regular operating costs, but an increase in funding as well to assist with capital improvements. The .35 mill figure for 10 years is almost 50 percent higher than its previous millage, which was .2329 mills annually. But the reality of the figure is that for a homeowner with a taxable value of $200,000, the millage will cost them about $70 a year for ten years, which is just $24 a year more than the current millage. Vote YES to maintain this county asset.
STATE OF MICHIGAN
Two proposed changes to the Michigan Constitution are on the November ballot. Proposal 1 would alter and improve how royalty revenues from mineral, oil and gas leases on state land could be spent. Proposal 2 would require a search warrant to access a person's electronic data and communications. Voters should say YES on these critical ballot proposals.