Gershenson, a resident of Bloomfield Township, is a former English teacher with a degree from the University of Michigan. Gershenson is the incumbent county commissioner for the 13th district, first elected in 2004.
The issue of mass transit for southeast Michigan has been a hotly debated topic for over four decades. More recently voters in this county have been less enthusiastic in terms tax increases to support a system beyond what we now have through SMART or an expanded system that does not provide equal benefits for all Oakland County communities. At the same time, the future for the modes of personal transportation is a big question. Plus, one of the impacts of the pandemic crisis is the number of employees who have been working remotely, which raises a legitimate question of whether there will be even less demand for an expanded mass transit system. What are your thoughts on the mass transit issue?
I support improving mass transit in our region. Better transit is needed to transport workers to jobs, assist people who don't drive or own cars to appointments, get students to school and keep our communities connected. I support developing a transit proposal that will require the approval of our county voters to move forward and provide benefits to all. As residents age, the transit needs of our senior population will grow exponentially. While some workers can work remotely, workers in need of transit are generally in jobs that cannot be done remotely such as lower wage health care and service sector jobs. Improving transit is essential to sustain and grow our regions economy, attract the workforce we need, and improve the quality of life in southeast Michigan.
VOTING DAY OFF FOR EMPLOYEES
The county board, controlled by Democrats, recently adopted a policy that gives county employees the day off to vote in an election, by some estimates an added cost of $1 million for the county and its taxpayers. In that state voters approved no-reason absentee voting, some say this new policy is unnecessary. Do you think the county board policy change was necessary? Explain.
I support election day being a county holiday as it is an opportune time to celebrate our democracy. The Republican cost estimate is not accurate. and was corrected by our human resource department. Election Day is a holiday in over 30 states and there is legislation pending in Michigan. The day off provides an opportunity for many county workers to volunteer at local polls where there is a need. We currently have over 500 local precincts and absentee ballot counting boards. This year, with the pandemic, there is concern the traditional poll workers whose average age is 70, will be less willing to work. New volunteers and workers will be needed to support running our elections. Voting is one of our most important civic duties and a cornerstone of our democracy.
Republican critics of the Democratically controlled county board are claiming that Democrats have done away with a long-standing budget procedure of providing a cost impact analysis when proposing new programs, suggesting that ultimately this will threaten the financial picture and eventually the bond rating for the county. Your reaction to this criticism?
This is completely false. Democrats instituted a policy that requires all actions and resolutions spending any county money, have budget amendments included in the resolution. This reform enables commissioners and the public to fully understand county spending. All budget amendments are required to align with our three-year budgeting practices. Commissioners are committed to the long-term success of our county and unanimously passed a three-year budget. Another reform advanced this term, was a requirement that departments submitting grant proposals committing county resources, receive board approval at the beginning of the process. This was often done at the end of the process by the previous administration. Democrats led an effort to require contracts come before the board for approval, a practice that had been ignored for decades. Our county's AAA bond rating was sustained this year, and the rating agencies affirmed our increased transparency, fiscal discipline and budgetary practices.
Oakland County is the home to hundreds of inland lakes and sits at the headwaters of six major rivers feeding the state’s waterways. Should the county be taking a stronger role in protecting the environment through a more aggressive approach with ordinances regulating items and activities that threaten our natural resources? If so, what would you suggest?
Protecting our lakes, water and streams is a top priority. I led the creation of the Oakland County Safe Lakes Initiative that resulted in a 400 percent increase in lake testing across the county and joined a statewide effort to post data publicly. We are taking many additional steps to protect our environment. I support reducing Oakland County's carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and we are in the process of conducting a county energy audit to establish a benchmark to achieve that goal. I support creating a new county energy sustainability office to lead our efforts. Lastly, I believe we need to find ways to inspect firms that use toxic chemicals annually. Partnering with the state, we can do more to protect our environment. I want to prevent another “Green Ooze” disaster and lead in communities pipes from ever happening again.
RACISM AS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared racism as a public health crisis and is appointing a committee to address this issue and has ordered implicit bias training for all state employees, including everyone in the administration. Should Oakland County be taking any special action or creating policies or programs to address this issue on the local level? Please provide details for your response.
Racism has a negative influence in the areas of housing, education and employment and is a barrier to health equity. Public health studies have shown that racism can create stress that affects overall physical health. This can result in a higher prevalence of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes, and a shorter lifespan. I am committed to address the injustices caused by racism by promoting racial equality and inclusion. First, the board of commissioners voted to recognize racism as a public health issue. Second, we are making the largest expansion in our public health centers in decades to expand health care access – with a focus on expanding access to vulnerable populations and communities of color. Lastly, our newly appointed diversity, equity and inclusion officer will be assessing all our county operations, including our public health operations and making recommendations to address issues that contribute to systemic racism.
Do you feel Oakland County is doing all it can to be a strong partner in the southeast Michigan region as it applies to the issue of regional cooperation?
Regional cooperation is a priority for the county administration and the Democratic majority on the board of commissioners. Our current administration is a strong participant in the Detroit Regional Partnership. Our board’s leadership works closely with the board leadership in our neighboring counties. I remain committed to advancing regional transit in the next term, one of the greatest issues our region faces. Working together, I’m confident, as a region, and with the current leadership in place, we can work collaboratively to solve transit, affordable housing and infrastructure issues facing all of us.
What do you believe are the key issues facing Oakland County at this time? How would you work to resolve the issues?
I support protecting and expanding health care in Oakland County. I supported the largest expansion of our public health department in decades. I am committed to moving public health beyond the traditional clinical approach and integrate new services. This will include adding family planning, women's heath, family medicine, mental health and dental services. My second priority is to keep our drinking water safe. I supported replacing all drinking fountains in our schools with filtered bottled water refilling stations. I am committed to work with our local communities to replace lead service lines to protect our drinking water. We have a growing senior population. It's imperative we fund the necessary resources to support seniors so they can lead independent and productive lives. I actively participate with our county's senior advisory council and I eliminated the wait list for critical senior services at our largest county senior service agency.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why should voters select you over your opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
Never before has experienced leadership been so important. I’ve worked hard to understand the needs of residents and am very active and accessible in the communities I represent. I use my experience to help people access vital services during this pandemic. I am a strong advocate to dispense the federal government's CARES money to help get businesses operating again. I advocated to use this money to assist non-profits, schools, libraries and senior centers and give financial assistance to our most vulnerable residents. I worked with a bi-partisan committee to support safe and responsible gun ownership, advance women's issues and secure more local funding for roads. I am determined to expand opportunities for all residents, make our communities stronger and continue to practice strong fiscal discipline. I am proud of the work I have done over my tenure and have much more to do!
Rohtbart, a resident of West Bloomfield, has an undergraduate degree in political science from Oakland University and is studying for his law degree at University of Detroit Mercy Law. He has been involved in Republican party organizations.
Having a functional and effective transit system should be a goal for the future of Oakland County. This means having a transit system that is run effectively, is organizationally sound, and responds to community demand. Having various transit agencies is a waste of government resources when we should have a single united transit network. We also need to fund projects that benefit the people who depend on the transit system the most, rather than gentrification projects which do little to help the community.
VOTING DAY OFF FOR EMPLOYEES
While making voting easier by having no-reason absentee voting has made the need for a day off seem not necessary, There are still reasons to allow employees to take the day off. Michigan has had a poll worker shortage problem for many years that I have experienced serving as a poll worker since 2012. Oakland County workers should be allowed to have a day off, if they sign up to be a poll worker for the day in order to assist residents in the voting process.
This policy change is a surrender of the oversight and government accountability responsibilities of the board of commissioners by eliminating safeguards that protect our community. The board operates as the county’s legislative branch of government. Making sure the people’s representatives are transparent and provide full oversight of county operations is a key part of the foundational role of having a legislative branch.
Protecting the natural beauty of our county is something I take very seriously. While I would need to thoroughly view any individual proposal, I describe myself as a “green” Republican because of having environmental issues as a centerpiece of my campaign platform. My general test for such proposals is they need to be innovative, not regressive, and have a greater benefit than their cost to implement/sustain.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
Having an educational background in history, it is impossible to separate racial tension with the history of Michigan. While we never had Jim Crow laws in Michigan, we did have many discriminatory practices either allowed or encouraged by government. We need to have greater educational outreach to teach the history of racial issues in our area. Specifically, where we have failed on racial issues and how those failures impact our community to this day. We also should support criminal justice reform efforts in Oakland County to focus law enforcement on preventing violent crime and start to end racial disparities in our justice system.
If our region succeeds, we all succeed. While we must protect the interests of the people who we represent, it is important to understand that it is in the interest of all people in my district to have a strong regional economy. Oakland County has a reputation of not being as strong of a regional partner as we could be. Oakland County should be a team player, but it is important for our regional partners to also be team players. If there is a program that benefits one of our regional partners but has a negative net impact on Oakland County that is not acceptable.
Clean Water. This is comprised of two key issues, one, lead pipes and two, the pollution of the Great Lakes. Lead in pipes is not an issue confined to Flint, Michigan. Oakland County also has had a history of lead contamination issues. Just snapping our fingers and saying the issue is solved is not possible. To understand how much lead is in our water system the very word “plumbing” derives from the Latin word for Lead. A phase out plan of lead pipes should be our goal focusing first on schools and public buildings, moving to commercial regulations, and finally moving to eliminating all lead water pipes in Oakland County. Two, Oakland County dumps hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into the Great Lakes because of our combined drainage and sewage system. I am not a water engineer, nor do I claim to be an expert in the area. We need to establish a panel of experts in the area to discuss options and move to a resolution focusing less on blame and more on solutions. This next County Commission will be responsible for redistricting the commission for the next 10 years. I will only support a map in order of priority that follows all applicable laws, respects existing community boundaries, and avoids unusual shapes. I am against gerrymandering, drawing a map for partisan advantage is wrong and will not have my support or vote.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
I am a candidate who brings people together. First being elected as a precinct delegate in 2010 on a platform of relentless positive action. Some may dismiss me for a lack of experience, but that discounts the fact that I have been in grassroots and party politics for over a decade. I will not be a deer in the headlights on the county commission. I know how to fight for my principles. Fighting homophobia, islamophobia, and defending refugees (like my late grandfather). These are all things I have gone on the record to stand for in my career in public service. If you want to vote for a decades long incumbent who votes the party line, support my opponent who I have enormous respect for. If you want something new, if you want real change, and someone who will work to end the partisan fights on the commission and bring our community together, maximize your vote and support Max Rohtbart for county commission.