COUNTY COMMISSION/11TH DISTRICT
Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills
Marcia Gershenson was first elected an Oakland County commissioner in 2004; she is currently vice chairwoman of the board of commissioners. A resident of Bloomfield Township, she is a former teacher who has a degree in English and teacher credentials from University of Michigan. She is involved with Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and Gilda's Club of Metro Detroit.
Mass transit for Oakland County
The Oakland County Board of Commissioners recently voted to place on the November ballot a .95 mill tax for county-wide mass transit. The millage would be levied for 10 years, starting in 2022. The proposal does not allow for any communities to opt out of the mass transit program, which some communities have done in the past. Some are also questioning whether there will be less demand for an expanded mass transit system given the fact that workplace habits, during the pandemic crisis, have leaned more toward remote working. Do you support the mass transit tax? Please explain.
I support the mass transit millage. The current transit tax is .9765 and the new rate for the entire county will be .95. Current opt-out communities will keep their existing transit systems in place. Current opt-in communities will see a reduction in their tax. The tax is approximately $95 annually for homeowners in a $200,000 home. This tax will generate income to increase county transit access with new routes focusing on hospitals, educational and job centers. There will be increased paratransit, a reservation based service for medical appointments and grocery shopping, that will promote independence for seniors, veterans and persons with disabilities. Microtransit, small vehicles, will provide flexible on demand service for everyone. It can be requested through a mobile app or phone call to link lower density suburban areas to the full transit system. This will be on the ballot for the voters to decide.
Museum millage questions
Earlier this year officials from Detroit had been pushing to have Oakland and Wayne counties place on the ballot a .4-mill tax for up to 20 years for the Detroit Historical Museum, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Although officials eventually backed down on asking for the tax this year, it is more than likely they will return in the future. Would you support placing this millage question before voters in Oakland County and would you personally support this tax request? Why or why not?
I personally believe in supporting the arts. These are important institutions that capture the history of our region and world. With increased revenues, these institutions could offer significantly enhanced services to the public. Similar to the DIA’s community commitments, some of these benefits could include free admission, field trips, programs for seniors, and a community partnership program to jointly create programs and events that meet communities specific needs. Examples are art-making experiences for veterans or those experiencing homelessness. Being accountable to the residents of our entire region, programs and exhibitions can be adapted to ensure our diverse communities see the programming they feel is relevant to their residents. It would also allow museums to add more staffing to work with teachers to align with their classroom goals. As with any tax, it will be up to the Oakland County voters to decide.
Highland Park Water and Sewer debt
Highland Park, a member of the Great Lakes Water Authority, since 2012 has failed to pay for what now amounts to over $54 million in water and sewer debt, which means member communities in Oakland County will be placed in a position to underwrite this debt whether through increased rates for water and sewer or tapping budget reserves to accomplish the same. The state of Michigan has failed to deal with this issue. What do you think should be the solution to this growing problem of a GLWA member community failing to pay for water and sewer services? Please be specific.
This matter is very complicated and currently in the courts. Recently, the judge ruled Highland Park is responsible for the $50 plus million it owes in back taxes. GLWA (Great Lakes Water Authority) members are currently not paying anything towards the Highland Park debt. At this point, the state and treasury are at the table trying to work out an equitable solution. I think the state needs to step in and help Highland Park continue to pay down their debt. The state can also issue a bond for the balance to secure the debt will be paid. In addition, GLWA may ask the state to refund any money other tax payers have put into the Highland Park debt.
Oakland's sustainability efforts
Oakland County Executive David Coulter has appointed the county's first sustainability officer as part of the county's effort to address global warming issues in the coming years. Do you support the county's efforts on this undertaking? Should the board of commissioners have a role in setting the agenda for reaching carbon neutral goals in the future?
Yes, I support our first sustainability officer Erin Quetelle. This is a new field with a tremendous learning curve for departments to understand the value and goals of this position. The chief sustainability officer will work with managers and employees to address our approach to environmental responsibility with the goal to minimize our county campus environmental impact. Our sustainability officer is responsible to understand and assess our county's environmental footprint, resources and plans. Chief sustainability officers can help their employers evaluate both their current impact on the environment and determine how to increase their sustainable practices. They can help ensure that future projects adhere to the most economically and environmentally friendly methods possible. Sustainability is a central core value for our current administration. Ms. Quetelle is an expert and I support following her recommendations. The board of commissioners are included in these conversations concerning sustainability.
Future of the board of commissioners
The size of the county board of commissioners has been reduced over several decades, each time with the reduction being billed as a way to save taxpayer funds. The most recent change in board size, prompted by Democrats taking control of the board, reduced the size from 21 commissioners to 19. Some have suggested that the ultimate goal may be to reduce the size of the board to 15 members, as in Wayne County, followed by a sizable annual pay increase. Oakland County commissioners now make $37,000 annually, plus health care benefits. In Wayne County, the pay rate is $61,800. Do you think the board size should be reduced further, accompanied by a sizable increase in pay?
I was a participant in the redistricting process and supported the reduced number of commissioners. Any further changes to the number of commissioners will not happen before the next census results in 2030. We will have 10 years to adjust to the new number of constituents we represent and determine if commissioners are comfortable with an increased number of constituents. I would advise watching how commissioners handle the increased number of residents in their respective districts, gather their feedback and then decide if we should make an adjustment to the current number of commissioners and any possible pay raises.
2020 presidential election results
Do you accept the presidential election results of 2020 in Michigan? Will you accept the results of the 2022 primary and general election? Explain why or why not.
Yes, I support the results of the 2020 election. I have full faith in our Oakland County election division, local and county clerks and our secretary of state. We have a checks and balance system to ensure our elections are accurate, transparent and secure. The public is invited to watch the canvas board, observe the public accuracy test for the election machines that are tested before every election. This pre-testing of machines is mandated by state law. In an effort to address any public mistrust, Oakland County Clerk Brown advertised and invited residents to watch the voting machines being tested for accuracy to dispel some of the misinformation and disinformation around elections. Only one Oakland County resident showed up.
What do you believe are the key issues facing Oakland County at this time? How would you work to resolve the issues?
The key issues facing our county are continuing the recovery from the pandemic, providing resources for our growing senior population and promoting responsible gun ownership. I have been a supporter of granting small business resources from federal rescue funds. These funds have allowed more businesses to pay their employees and keep their business open. I also work with our recently concluded Senior Blueprint task force that lays out the future needs for our seniors. I participate in an elder abuse and quality of life action group. We must fund the necessary resources to support seniors to lead independent and productive lives. I am currently co-chairing a group that supports safe gun ownership. We will be hosting our first gun buy back program as a pilot this year. In addition to the gun buy back, their will be educational information, gun safety locks and information on gun storage.
Why should voters select you over your primary opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
Experience matters. I am a very hard worker who is accountable and responsible to all residents in our county. I understand Oakland County government and regularly try to assist residents navigate our system. I attend local council meetings to better understand and be responsive to local issues. My experience has helped residents access important services during the pandemic. I have worked to give financial support to our business community, nonprofits, senior centers and schools. I am committed to strengthen our mental health services so they are affordable and accessible. I am currently working on a bi-partisan gun safety group that supports responsible gun ownership. I am proud of all I have accomplished and hope voters will return me to office to finish many of the great programs I am involved in.