ELECTION 2016: Joanne Westphal Q&A, Candidate for Clerk, Peninsula Township

"Every decision made by the Town Board will have short and long term consequences."

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Joanne Westphal
Joanne Westphal | 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 Joanne Westphal, candidate for Peninsula Township Clerk.

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 Clerk for Peninsula Township, and what qualifications will you bring to the role?

I have more than 31 years of professional planning and design experience – working at the scale of a residential site to a national forest. Twenty-five years of that experience has been divided between my faculty responsibilities at Michigan State University in East Lansing and my university consulting work for Peninsula Township.

From 1989, I have worked on nearly every major initiative that has been implemented in the Township, including: Master Plan Revisions, the Agricultural Preservation Plan which included the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, the New Town Development, and the Planned Unit (Cluster) Development. My students and I developed the first comprehensive set of baseline maps in 1992, which now are a part of the Geographic Information System (GIS) that the Township and County use.

I have conducted citizen surveys and interviews, recorded and written about the architecture of the Old Mission Peninsula, and have studied land transfer patterns from the earliest Federal Land Sales (1859) to present-day. I have made a deep personal and professional commitment to the Peninsula, and that is why I am running for this position.

As township clerk, I will bring a wealth of experience to the position, including: practical problem-solving skills; honesty and transparency in reporting and recording township business; knowledge of software and computer applications that will improve the daily responsibilities of the township clerk in finances, voter registration and information transfer with citizens and other officials; confidence in applying more informative and unbiased reporting of township affairs and committee deliberations; and a voting record that reflects the collective vision of our community as reflected in the Master Plan.

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

As a student of the landscape, I know that no landscape is static. Everything changes. The question is whether it is changing for the better. Is the landscape able to absorb the man-made changes we are introducing? Or are the seemingly small and unconnected incremental changes coalescing in such a way that they will make the place unrecognizable in 10, 20, or 50 years? Every decision made by the Town Board will have short and long term consequences. Every driveway that is paved and every structure that is built will contribute to whether or not we can maintain the rural character (and more importantly, the place identity) of the Peninsula.

My vision is to follow the Master Plan, which calls for a balance of growth while maintaining the rural character of the Peninsula.

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?

When the Port of Old Mission first applied for its special use permit, township officials were initially skeptical of its zero lot line concept and clustered single- family residential layout. Today, it is one of the most beautiful large-scale developments on the Peninsula. It illustrates that “large” does not have to translate into “ugly,” “environmentally damaging,” or “visually obtrusive.” We have had a number of other large-scale developments that have gone the other way, and I would like to see fewer of these developments in the future.

The key is whether or not the developer and township officials/staff can address the concerns of the surrounding community and the physical limitations of the site in a creative, positive manner. In the end, the ultimate test will be whether the proposed development “protects the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.”

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?

To be honest, I am ambivalent about this issue. It is a controversy that is difficult to untangle, given the beloved history surrounding the volunteer fire department. I will be the first to admit that initially I was skeptical that a volunteer fire department could meet the challenges presented by contemporary standards in life-support and fire control. However, recent developments, particularly with the performance of our volunteers during their Safe Boat training period, tells me that I may have underestimated the skills and dedication of our volunteer fire department.

As more information becomes public relating to the affairs of the fire department and the role of our Town Board in the virtual dissolution of its member ranks, I will feel more competent to take a clear stand on the issue.

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?

Grade schools serve more than the student body that attends them. They are an integral part of a community‚Äôs identity. In the case of the Old Mission Peninsula School, it is also the home of our local library … a gathering place where neighbors come for book clubs, lectures, special events, and intergenerational programs. It would be a shame to lose this valuable resource in our community.

The gesture of the anonymous donor to support OMPS is appreciated. However, it will be important to clearly understand the contingencies upon which the donation will be made. And of course, we must consider the practical matter of what would happen once the $800,000 is depleted.

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?

It is important for residents to realize that part of the new expansion rests on contaminated soil; groundwater flow that underlies the soil still leaches from the present landfill when it was a dump. From a technical standpoint, a more passive set of recreation uses may be the most prudent use of the expansion area.

There are ways to mitigate mild levels of contamination on a site, using a technique called phytoremediation (i.e., the use of plants to sequester or break down brown field contaminants). But until a program is set for the expansion part of the park, it is hard to predict what the most viable alternatives are for the park. We should let the Park Commission do its work in soliciting citizen input on this question, and then as a Town Board, we should seek external funds for developing the program.

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 would employ an earlier master planning process that organized citizen committees, based on interest and/or affiliation (i.e., commerce/business, farming, the environment, the parks, neighborhood associations, etc.). This process asked citizens to provide direct input to the planning process. Other processes involved citizen surveys, 3-dimensional model simulations, case studies that asked residents to engage in “best or worst” case scenarios pertaining to growth on the Peninsula, and expert witness interviews. All of this was done to gauge citizen sentiment in the decision-making process at the township level. I would support a similar engagement strategy to rebuild community involvement in township affairs and to clarify the “vision” for the Peninsula.

Irrespective of the purpose for the involvement, all township activities and deliberations should be recorded, reported upon fully, catalogued, and archived for easy access by the general public at the Peninsula Community Library and Town Hall.

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

The citizens of Peninsula Township have the unique opportunity to elect a group of seven candidates who are extremely talented, work well together, are respectful of their neighbors/constituents, and are fiscally conservative. Our mantra is “rebuilding community,” and we intend to perform the “reconstruction process” with humility, openness, careful deliberation, and aplomb!

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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