ELECTION 2016: Margaret Achorn Q&A, Candidate for Trustee, Peninsula Township

"As Trustee, it will be my fiduciary duty to promote and protect the interests of the public."

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Margaret Achorn
Margaret Achorn | 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 Margaret Achorn, 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?

As a concerned citizen, I began paying attention to what was happening in the Township several years ago. I soon came to the realization that I had the knowledge, expertise and qualities that were needed on the Township Board, and that I could make a positive contribution on behalf of the residents of Peninsula Township.

I will bring to the role of Trustee my extensive expertise and knowledge of financial and legal analysis obtained during more than 35 years as a practicing Certified Public Accountant. My Core Principles of Honesty, Integrity, a Strict Code of Ethics and a strong Fiduciary Duty to the residents fulfill the job description of a Township Trustee – “an individual placed in a position of public trust with fiduciary responsibilities to manage the affairs of the township for the best interests of the public.”

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

In 1983, when I first traversed along the rural roads of Peninsula Township exploring its nooks and crannies, breathing in the country smells, magnificent views and quiet peacefulness, I knew this was where I wanted to live the rest of my days.

In the intervening 30 years, I have seen increased commercialization and housing developments in places where orchards and vineyards once made patchwork designs on the landscape. It seems that I was not the only one who found this unique peninsula ideal.

I support and will work to conserve and protect additional agricultural acreage, working farms and scenic vistas so that we can retain the quiet rural qualities that we love. Yet, I am fearful that special interests will continually try to convert our valuable agricultural and natural lands into more houses and commercial endeavors.

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 will evaluate each project (large or small) in accordance with the legally established procedures and without predetermined bias. Each procedural step must be followed without shortcutting. Public input will be respectfully listened to and officially recorded in its entirety so that the Board will be able to carefully evaluate all the information for later discussions.

In my analysis, each project must meet the goals and objectives of the Master Plan – our set of directions the residents have provided to guide the future direction of our community.

I will exercise Due Diligence in carefully evaluating all the factors in the project, with thorough research from not only official technical reports, but also with further investigative information or evaluation from various other sources if I feel it is necessary.

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 am in favor of reestablishing the excellence of our own independent Fire Department. Historically, we have always had an exemplary well-equipped Fire Department staffed with our own dedicated First Responders.

Personally, I would not feel comfortable having to rely on the details of a contract with another fire department. Based on preliminary cost estimates and operational plans that I have seen, contracting it out to another fire department would be expensive. Furthermore, we would have no control over the operations.

Our Safeboat was obtained to enhance protection in our jurisdictional waters. I am in favor of keeping it totally ours.

It is critical that each resident and taxpayer be well informed and heard because, whatever course the community chooses, IT WILL TAKE ADDITIONAL FUNDING. Thus, it must be the decision of the public to tell us what their wants and needs are and how much they are willing to pay to meet their collective needs and goals.

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?

Whether or not to keep Old Mission Peninsula School open is TCAPS’ decision to make – as is the decision whether or not to accept the $800,000+ from the anonymous donor.

I am in favor of an opportunity for continued educational opportunities (from pre-school through senior citizen) at our OMPS site – under TCAPS or some other qualified umbrella organization. This is a unique asset with unlimited potential uses, in addition to being situated on a beautiful and valuable piece of property. I would hate for our Old Mission community to lose it. I am also concerned about the stipulations in the donation offer and any possible long-term ramifications of those details.

The Peninsula Community Library will continue to be an important and valuable presence in our community, no matter what happens to OMPS. The library owns acreage on the corner of Center and Island View roads and could build its own facilities there.

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 envision ONE Bowers Harbor Park which encompasses both the original park and the expansion areas.

I see family-friendly portions (mainly in the original park area) since the ball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts, paved walking path and picnic pavilions are already established there. Of course, the large playground equipment area would need to be replaced with freshly-designed play structures appropriate for today’s youth and constructed with modern, environmentally-safe materials.

I see passive areas and walking trails, nature viewing, bird watching and other quiet areas (mainly in the expansion area) because of the topography, wetlands and environmental challenges present there.

So, I envision family-friendly, active and passive areas. It is during this visioning process that the entire community will be invited to be involved to make the Bowers Harbor Park one that the entire community will utilize and be proud of for many years to come.

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?

Firstly, in order for a community to be engaged, it must be informed. It will be our job to find various and multiple avenues of communication to reach the entire community. It is our responsibility to inform the community – to let them know what is happening in the Township, that we welcome their input and will respect open dialogue. Meeting minutes will reflect what transpired.

Secondly, we must follow through to prove to the community that we do seriously consider what they have taken the time to analyze and communicate to us. Once we prove ourselves through actions, I am hopeful there will be ongoing public involvement, because the Board’s decisions impact the entire community.

We are already researching the Township’s software to find opportunities for meaningful reporting and financial transparency. As Trustee, it will be my fiduciary duty to promote and protect the interests of the public.

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

I will work for JUSTICE FOR THE TAXPAYERS. In achieving this task, I will focus on the following 5-step process:

1. LISTENING to taxpayers’ concerns, requests and questions.

2. EVALUATING those concerns and requests that make sense when compared to the needs of the community – and then FOLLOWING THROUGH to obtain results that will benefit the community.

3. Having a solid grasp on the financial complexity of the Township so that I am able to EXPLAIN financial information in a manner that it is UNDERSTANDABLE to the taxpayer.

4. UTILIZING THE TOWNSHIP’S FINANCIAL SOFTWARE to help identify areas for savings and in overall cost control.

5. Thoroughly UNDERSTANDING OUR MASTER PLAN and the vision the residents laid out for the future of our community. Then, FOLLOWING IT AS OUR GUIDING LIGHT in the revision and updating of our Zoning Ordinance to make it more USER FRIENDLY AND UNDERSTANDABLE to the public and IN ACCORDANCE with our Master Plan.

Achieving JUSTICE is not a trivial task, but it is achievable through TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY, DEDICATION and COMMITMENT to serve the public. I and the other members of the Team are totally committed to achieving JUSTICE FOR THE TAXPAYERS.

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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