ELECTION 2016: Isaiah Wunsch Q&A, Candidate for Trustee, Peninsula Township

"The data used to support the school closures was thin at best, and it appears that the decision is more political than practical."

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Isaiah Wunsch, Peninsula Township
Isaiah Wunsch | Jane Boursaw Photo

The Primary Election will take place on August 2, 2016 in Peninsula Township, Grand Traverse County. Following is a Q&A with Isaiah Wunsch, candidate for Peninsula Township Trustee.

Click here for links to Q&As with all the candidates who’ve responded to our request. To print this Q&A, click the printer icon at the top of this post. To download a sample ballot for Peninsula Township, click here.

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(Editor’s Note: Current Township Supervisor, Pete Correia, did not respond to our request for a Q&A).

Why are you running for the position of Township Trustee for Peninsula Township, and what qualifications will you bring to the role?

After living and working elsewhere for several years, I can confidently say that Peninsula Township is my home. Like my house and my farm, the community and township that I call home deserve thoughtful care and maintenance, and I believe that I am well qualified to be a good steward of our community. I studied public policy at the University of Michigan and pursued a graduate degree in Agricultural Economics from MSU. Additionally, I have spent several years working in legislative politics and in state economic development policy. These academic and professional experiences will combine well with my lifetime of experience in the Township to help me serve you well as Trustee.

What is your vision for Peninsula Township in 10, 20, 50 years? Do you support maintaining the rural character of the Old Mission Peninsula?

I envision higher density in Traverse City in the short and intermediate term, and believe that maintaining the rural character of the Old Mission Peninsula will make ours a truly unique community over the course of the next 50 years. I believe that our residents expressed true wisdom in the 2011 Master Plan – we should seek to use a Purchase of Development Rights program and other public-private ventures to maintain our scenic views and rural character without infringing upon the rights of private property owners.

Do you support large scale developments such as “The 81,” a development bordering Boursaw Road that includes 41 home sites and up to 40 boat slips in East Bay? Why or why not?

I cannot speak to “The 81” directly, because I serve on the Township Planning Commission and we are continuing to negotiate on that project. I believe that we must enforce our rules consistently – it is not fair to create advantages or disadvantages for certain business owners due either to the charisma of the applicant or the scenic value of a particular parcel. However, I am generally opposed to additional large scale developments, and would seek to use Purchase of Development Rights and other market-based programs to limit major new developments. I believe that it is important for the Township Board to be proactive rather than reactive about land use decisions, and it seems like our tendency of late has been to react too late to major development proposals.

Much controversy is currently surrounding the Peninsula Fire Department, including resignations from the Fire Board, unionization of the fire department, discussion about the sale of fire equipment (including the Safe Boat), and discussion about the fire department being absorbed into Traverse City, with Peninsula Township contracting for those services. Do you support maintaining a strong and independent fire department in Peninsula Township? Why or why not? If yes, what steps will you take to ensure that?

I support maintaining a strong and independent fire department in Peninsula Township for two key reasons. First, my research shows that rural fire needs are different from urban fire needs and that optimization of rural fire requires a balance of professional and volunteer firefighters. Our current Town Board allowed the volunteer firefighters to be more or less disbanded, which is contrary to best practices for rural fire departments. We don’t need to try to push a round peg through a square hole by contracting with City Fire – rather, we need to bring back the volunteers and other practices consistent with the needs of a best-in-class rural fire department.

Second, contracting with City Fire could trigger a substantial increase in taxes in exchange for a stagnant or reduced level of service, with very little local control to resolve issues. Peninsula Fire provided great service at a relatively low cost until very recently, and I think that a change in management could return us to those results.

TCAPS has recommended closing Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS) at the end of the 2018 school year, with Old Mission children attending Eastern Elementary School going forward. This would also necessitate the Peninsula Community Library finding a new home. However, an anonymous Old Mission Peninsula resident has pledged $800,000+ to help keep OMPS open. Do you support keeping OMPS open? Why or why not?

I emphatically support keeping OMPS open, and my only regret in running for Town Board is that it will prevent me from pursuing one of the three tentative vacancies on the TCAPS board. I do not feel that our Town Board adequately challenged TCAPS’ proposal in a timely fashion, and I do not think that closing Eastern Elementary is an acceptable alternative. The data used to support the school closures was thin at best, and it appears that the decision is more political than practical. I encourage any available and interested township residents to take a look at running for the TCAPS board. Our community needs to have at least one strong advocate at the table between now and 2018, and we are not currently represented.

A Bowers Harbor Park expansion is currently in the works, with a committee meeting regularly to move this project forward. What is your vision for this expansion? Would you like to see a more family-friendly park, with new play structures? Or would you rather see a more passive park, with additional walking trails and improvements to the current play structures?

I am open to evaluating any proposals from the Park Board, but would prefer to see a more passive park in the expansion, and would focus currently available resources on modernizing and maintaining the existing play structures and athletic fields. I think that a mix of active uses in the old park and passive uses in the expansion would make for a very engaging and aesthetically appealing mixed community space.

How would you engage Peninsula Township residents in the decision-making process at the Township level? How will you ensure community transparency in finances, meetings and decisions?

I think that it is important for us to conduct another round of surveys to determine what the priorities of the community are as we begin to update the Master Plan. A new survey should be conducted every ten years or so. Additionally, I feel that we should reinstate the Township Newsletter and address concerns about the costs of mailing the newsletter by creating an email option for any township residents who would prefer to receive correspondence electronically.

We also need to go well above the state mandated minimums in terms of making financial records, meeting recordings, etc. available to the public. Finally, meetings and public hearings should be structured so that the public has the ability to comment before the Board has rendered even a preliminary decision. Strict adherence to agendas and Robert’s Rules of Order for conducting Township business is less important than ensuring that township residents’ voices are heard.

Anything else you’d like to convey to residents of Peninsula Township?

I am very concerned about a number of recent issues that have arisen in our township – differences of opinion are common and respectable in local government, but I worry that the current board is facing a crisis either of integrity or competence, as demonstrated by our rising legal bills, the deterioration of our fire department, and our failure to respond proactively to a number of external challenges ranging from conservation to the proposed closure of our school and library.

Some board members are no doubt more culpable than others, but all are responsible for recognizing and responding to these issues. While I count a number of the incumbents as personal friends and mentors, I believe that we must be held accountable for our actions and their outcomes. Therefore, I’d like to voice my support for Rob Manigold for Supervisor, Brad Bickle for Treasurer, and Joanne Westphal for Clerk; as well as Margaret Achorn, Maura Sanders, and Warren Wahl for Trustee.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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