Election 2024: Peninsula Township Candidate Q&A - Dave Sanger
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Election season is upon us! I’ve sent out a list of questions to all the candidates running for office in Peninsula Township, and I’ll be publishing them here on the Gazette in the order they’re received. Candidates include:

Supervisor: Kelly J. Clark, Maura Sanders
Clerk: Rebecca W. Chown
Treasurer: Katie M. Clark
Trustee (4 positions available): Kate Jerman, Mark Luea, J.P. Milliken, David K. Sanger, Fred Swaffer, Jr., Julie Alexander, Warner Queeny, Armen B. Shanafelt, Isaiah S. Wunsch

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View all candidate responses here, and read on for thoughts from David Sanger, who is running for re-election for the position of Township Trustee.

About You

What is your name, party affiliation, and what Peninsula Township office are you running for?

David K. Sanger, Republican Party, running for re-election as Trustee on the Peninsula Township Board.

Why are you running for this position, and what qualifications do you bring to the role?

I am running for re-election because I care about our beautiful peninsula with its unique blending of agricultural, residential, business and recreation. In addition to my service to the Peninsula, my business experience includes senior management positions in finance and systems within the automotive industry. I am an entrepreneur who founded several privately-held firms.

I have served our faith community as business manager for St. Joseph Church on Old Mission Peninsula. I have also served our community through volunteer service as a Board member of the Scenic Trails Boy Scout Council and Reserve Deputy with the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office.

Have you served on any Peninsula Township committees or boards, and if so, which ones?

I have served the Township for the past six years as a Township Board Trustee. My previous service to the Township includes nine years as a member of the Planning Commission, eight years as a member and chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and four years as a member and chair of the Township Fire Board.

How long have you lived on the Old Mission Peninsula?

My wife, Linda, and moved to the Peninsula in 2000 from Bloomfield Township, Oakland County, Michigan.

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 recognize that we live on an “island-like” geography that is unique, and that we must plan for the future by implementing policies that protect this beautiful environment by protecting our shoreland and wetland areas, being sure that development occurs in a way that thoughtfully balances all land-use needs, and working toward the goal of maintaining our agricultural character by adding value to local agricultural product without creating added noise and traffic congestion.

I support continuing to develop our outstanding park system, making vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle travel safer, and operating under the best form of government with suitable and essential public facilities.

Do you support large scale developments such as “Peninsula Shores,” formerly known as “The 81 on East Bay”?

We will continue to see new homes being built on residential and agricultural lands in the Township, while reducing eventual “build out” through policies such as our Purchase of Development Rights and Donation of Development Rights programs.

Through the application of our Zoning Ordinance, we can achieve the desirable development of residential homes, whether on single-lot basis as a use by right or part of multiple-lot development projects under the Special Use process. It is critical to maintain an effective Zoning Ordinance to support all development.

How will you ensure community transparency in Township finances, meetings and decisions?

I am committed to complying with the Open Meetings Act and full transparency. I support the web-broadcast of all Township Board meetings, the full transcription of the Minutes of the meetings, and the distribution of all supporting materials (“packet”) to the public prior to Board meetings.

I support the creation of a “public affairs” office within the Township office to function as a conduit of information to the public, as well as a single point of contact for inquiring about Township government information. I support the creation of “citizen advisory committees” as a means of involving our citizens in the governmental process.

How do you plan to make a difference on the Old Mission Peninsula? What are your top priorities?

I am committed to continuing to make a difference, as shown by my 24 years of service to the Township. This service has resulted in improved emergency services (Fire Department with 24/7 paramedic/fire service operating from three fire stations and law enforcement protection by Sheriff’s Deputies assigned to our Township), adoption of new Master Plans for the Township and our Parks, new and amended ordinances, and expansion of our parks and boat launch.

My top priorities:

  1. Protect our Township’s natural beauty and maintain a desirable place to live, work and enjoy life.
  2. Engage our citizens in our government and improve communications with them.
  3. Align the Zoning and other Township Ordinances with the new Master Plan.
  4. Provide the highest quality of services supported by our citizens with their tax dollars.

Citizen Engagement

How can Peninsula Township encourage citizens to become more involved in Township issues, attend meetings, etc.?

Establish a public affairs office within the Township Office with responsibility to disseminate information to our citizens and function as a single point-of-contact for information about our Township government.

Encourage every Township Board member (Supervisor, Clerk and Treasurer and Trustees) to hold scheduled “office hours” to meet with citizens individually.

Strengthen relationships with homeowner groups, agricultural groups and business groups through citizen advisory groups as standing committees on the Township Board.

Peninsula Township relies on volunteers to help with public services, such as well-maintained parks and serving on Township committees and boards. How can the Township increase this pool of volunteers?

Through a new public affairs office, distribute information on volunteer opportunities. Utilize the Township website to post job descriptions for volunteer positions.

Do you support holding periodic town hall meetings where citizens can have back-and-forth discussions with Township officials?

Yes, I have seen this work as a member of the Master Plan citizens advisory committee and the Shoreline citizens advisory committee. I also support having specific office hours available for one-on-one meetings between individual Board members and individual citizens.

Do you support an open-door policy at the Township where walk-in visits are allowed?

Yes, the “locked door” policy established during COVID must be eliminated. The front office should be a “welcome” center. For efficiency, scheduled appointments with office staff should be encouraged.

Township Administration

The Township has experienced a high level of turnover in the Planning department during the past decade. How can the Township improve staff retention?

Positive steps have already been taken; I participated in the development of an Employee Handbook and the creation of job descriptions for our employees. We recently approved a new contract with members of the union representing our Fire Department employees. Our compensation and benefits programs have been reviewed and have been updated and are competitive with other governments in our area.

Which parts of the Township budget do you believe could be cut or eliminated?

The budget approved for this fiscal year is balanced (income vs. expenses). It is a very lean budget. Our employees are working very diligently to keep pace with the growth of our community and the demand for services.

I supported engaging Maner Costerisan, a financial and organizational management consulting firm, to evaluate the services that we are providing and make recommendations to improve efficiency and level of service within our current budget. They will also prepare a long-range financial plan for the Township.

Will you adhere to due process, or will you make decisions based on circumstances and relationships?

I fully support and am committed to conducting the affairs of the Township in accordance with Federal and State laws and our Township Ordinances. I believe that we must follow the laws. I believe that everyone must be treated fairly and equally. I will not compromise on these principles and values that have guided me throughout my entire life.

Do you support or oppose moving to a charter township and why?

With two townships in Grand Traverse County organized as a Charter Township, and a third (Long Lake Township) recently changing from general to charter, the question has arisen for our Township. The consulting work now underway by Maner Costerisan will help us analyze the plusses and minuses of being a Charter Township. I am an analytical person, and I need more information. We can always stay as a general law township—there is no hurry to change.

Regarding hours at the Township office, do you support moving back to a five-day work week of seven-hour days, 9 to 5 or 8 to 4, with an hour off for lunch?

A change would involve determining the preferences of our citizens, plus determining what is best for our dedicated employees. I support conducting a citizen survey to help us evaluate this suggestion. This could be part of a survey to gather the current thoughts of our citizens on a wide range of topics. The last survey was conducted in 2019.

Would you support lowering application permit fees, dropping the cash requirement for escrow funds, and allowing a bond in lieu of cash at applicant’s choosing?

I believe that our fee schedule, adopted by the Board for 2024, is very fair considering the time required by staff to administer permits. For example, the permit fee for a new single-family dwelling, regardless of size, is $200. That seems reasonable. I would support a reduced fee schedule for full-time residents who are receiving social security benefits. The option of posting a bond vs. cash should be investigated.

Master Plan, Ordinance and Enforcement

How will you address residents/applicants who refuse to follow the ordinance? How will enforcement take place?

The first step is education; the Zoning Ordinance, now 52 years old, is exceedingly difficult to read and understand. It must be updated, clarified and simplified with charts and graphs, and indexed and available in an online format. This also applies to other old ordinances (Junk Ordinance, Noise Ordinance, and Fireworks Ordinance).

The second step is voluntary compliance. This involves working with the citizen who has violated the ordinance and helping the citizen correct the situation that resulted in a violation. This approach is usually successful, as most citizens want to comply with the ordinances.

In some occasions, the Township must involve the Court to achieve compliance through the issuance of a Citation to Appear in the District Court. This is a “last resort” for achieving compliance with the ordinance.

In areas where the Township’s operational budget is already strained, how can the Township address more resident complaints, allegations of non-compliance, and public nuisance issues?

The first step is to streamline the reporting process through an online complaint system, where citizens can furnish sufficient information so that the Township can evaluate the complaint and determine the best course of action. We must utilize technology (email, texting, cell phone numbers) to quicken communication. The most efficient process involves getting critical information quickly and making personal contact with the alleged violator.

Have you read the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, and do you understand the procedures for adopting a Master Plan and amending a zoning ordinance?

Yes, as a member of the Planning Commission for nine years and the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals for eight years, coupled with six years’ service as a Trustee, I do understand the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act and the Michigan Planning Enabling Act.

Will you follow the zoning ordinance as written, or will you make exceptions where convenient?

As a Township Trustee, sworn to uphold the laws of the United States and Michigan, I am committed to following all Township ordinances, including the Zoning Ordinance, as amended, to the best the best of my ability. The only exception that can be made to the Zoning Ordinance is by means of the granting of a Variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

What elements of the Master Plan do you feel are lacking most?

As a Trustee, I have participated in the development of the new Master Plan that was approved by the Planning Commission on July 2, 2024. This was the result of dedicated efforts by our Planning Commission, Jen Cram (our Township Planner), Township Board members, and many citizens. I believe that it is accurate, up to date, and truly represents today’s “Master Plan for the future” and is not lacking in content. (Editor’s Note: The Township Board approved the Master Plan at their meeting on July 9, 2024. -jb)

Wineries and Winery Lawsuit

Had you been on the Township Board during the WOMP v Peninsula Township settlement discussions, how much Township money would you have given up to the wineries?

As a Township Trustee since the lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in 2020, I have actively participated in the lawsuit and aggressively defended the citizens of our Township in the lawsuit.

If Township insurance does not cover all the damages claimed by the wineries in the winery lawsuit, how do you feel about OMP residents having to personally pay for those damages?

Although the trial in Federal Court has ended, we do not know the outcome of the trial, nor do we know the amount of damages, if any. I am concerned about monetary damages, and also about the impact of the lawsuit on our community.

Regarding the Wineries:

  • Should they be allowed to have unlimited weddings?
  • Should they be allowed to operate full-service restaurants?
  • Should they be allowed to be open until 2 a.m.?
  • Should they be required to support OMP farmers via collaborations and/or using locally-grown produce?

These questions pertain to issues in the lawsuit.  I cannot divulge any information that I have been a party to during the legal process. I can state that I understand the position of many citizens as follows:

  1. They are opposed to wedding-type events and full-service restaurant operations.
  2. They are opposed to staying open until 2 a.m.
  3. They support OMP farmers by using locally-grown produce.

Overall, what are your thoughts on the winery lawsuit?

As a Trustee, I am bound by the gag order established by Federal Court Judge Maloney on this lawsuit. Therefore, I cannot comment while the matter is still before the Court. I can only say that I wish that this matter can be settled in the best interests of all citizens of Old Mission Peninsula.

OMP Farmers

Do you support ordinances that help OMP farmers thrive, such as food processing kitchens, workshops, cooking classes, farm tours, larger roadside stands and more?

Yes, I supported Amendment 203 to the Zoning Ordinance that renamed roadside stands to farm stands and updated the Ordinance to be consistent with the Michigan Right to Farm Act. I support the newly approved Master Plan that includes a vision for agriculture with this statement: “Constructively and collaboratively work towards the goal of adding value to local agricultural products without creating areas that add noise and traffic congestion.”

How will you assist young farmers looking to start their business or sustain existing farms for young farmers?

Township government should work with all farmers, recognizing the desirability of maintaining our agricultural heritage. As stated in the new Master Plan, we should constructively and collaboratively work towards the goal of adding value to local agricultural products without creating areas that add noise and traffic congestion.

The creation of the Citizens Agricultural Advisory Committee, a standing citizen committee of the Township Board, is a prime example of working together with our farming community for the best interests of our entire Township.

Do you believe in the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program? Do you believe that a PDR conservation easement should place limitations on the future commercial use of a property?

I believe in the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program; we were the first governmental agency in the nation to adopt a conservation program supported by taxpayer funding. I am pleased that our PDR program was just renewed for 20 years by a 2:1 margin at the polls.

Limitations are appropriate; but, we must be careful, however, to avoid violations of the Michigan Right to Farm Act and conflicts with the Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPS) whenever we discuss “commercial use.”

Do you support an OMP farmer’s market and/or a local artists/artisan market?

As Trustee, I supported the recent updates in our Zoning Ordinance to encourage Farm Stands (formerly called roadside stands). I would support a consolidated market, if desired by the agricultural community.

Taxes

In your view, what will Township governance look like if the AxMiTax ballot initiative passes?

As I understand the question, the AxMiTax movement is a constitutional ballot initiative that would eliminate the local property tax as a means of generating revenue for local government and local projects approved by the voters.

The primary question is “will the money be replaced or will we be required to cut programs?” Does this mean the end to our PDR program? How will we fund our Fire Department and voter-approved law enforcement from the Sheriff’s Office?

If, as I hear, the money will come from state revenue sources such as the income and sales tax, plus taxes on alcohol and tobacco, then I would expect that the State money would be accompanied with directives on how to use the money. That spells the end of local control. That outlook is not encouraging.

Do you support a Parks Millage to maintain and improve Township parks?

We definitely need to find a way to maintain and provide improvements to our 823 acres of park land that we manage. We have a very dedicated Parks Committee; the Township Board recently approved a Master Plan for our parks. In addition to funding the basics (mowing, tree trimming, etc.), the Master Plan includes improvements such as flush toilets at Bowers Park.

We are seeking funding through grants and donations, and are grateful for the support that has made possible a new pickleball court and new activity centers for our children at Haserot and Bowers Harbor. Long range, we will need taxpayer funding, and I would support a special millage vote.

What are your thoughts on the Headlee Rollback?

A Headlee Rollback would restore the operating millage for the Township to 1.0 mills – the original millage rate in 1993. Today, the impact of Headlee has reduced the operating millage to 0.61 mils. The consulting work underway by Maner Costerisan will help us evaluate a Headlee Rollback and determine if we should seek voter approval for a reset to 1.0 mils.

Other Township Issues

Should there be a public vetting of candidates as to whether they are each in compliance with the Township?

Compliance with what? I assume that this question applies to compliance with their oath of office? Or, maybe compliance with the Zoning Ordinance? Either way, we have civil and criminal procedures presently available through the Courts to address any concerns regarding our elected officials. I question the legality of holding “public vetting” outside of the court system as being unconstitutional.

Do you think Bluff Road should be fixed and re-opened? How would you go about making that happen?

The correction of the damage to Bluff Road, and the associated cost and impact on this section of our community, is the sole authority and responsibility of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC).

I believe that the Township should work collaboratively with the GTCRC in determining the appropriate action, based on input from the adjoining property owners, the roadway users, and the position of the Township regarding any funding by Township taxpayers.

What is your opinion of short-term rentals on the OMP? Should they be allowed? Do you operate a short-term rental on the OMP?

Short term rentals are not allowed in the Township, per the Zoning Ordinance. I support that provision in the ordinance. I encourage the creation of a Residential Advisory Committee, to help gather factual information regarding any changes to our short-term rental policy in the Zoning Ordinance.

We have a similar residential committee, on which I serve, evaluating changes to the regulations affecting boat hoists and docks and other shoreline regulations.

I do not operate, nor have I ever operated, a rental of any type (short term or other) on any property in Peninsula Township.

What is your opinion on additional residential buildout on the OMP?

I support the current and future land use map in the new Master Plan. The eventual “build out,” based on the future land use map, is 12,000 people. I support a Zoning Ordinance that provides regulatory tools to achieve that future build out.

How would you address the desire for more commercial activity by some residents and the lack of commercially-zoned property?

Such desire will require a change in zoning from the present zoning to commercial. That governmental process would involve substantial public input and a thorough understanding of the need for rezoning. I do not sense a strong desire for additional commercially-zoned property.

Do you support a non-motorized pathway similar to the TART Trail throughout the Old Mission Peninsula?

Yes. I supported the creation of a citizen’s non-motorized study committee to determine the possibility of creating a non-motorized pathway. This committee is seeking grants to develop a non-motorized transportation plan for the Township.

How would you make that happen when a trail cannot cross farmland due to farming rules and regulations?

I support a study to evaluate this concern. Perhaps it could be achieved by restrictive easements.

Should Peninsula Township seek collaboration with our regional partners such as the Michigan Department of Transportation, Grand Traverse County Road Commission, and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE)?

Definitely, yes. We already have good working relationships with these governmental agencies, but there is always room for improvement. We share many similar goals with these county and state agencies.

Do you support the proposal of a new fire station to replace Fire Station #1 in Mapleton?

There is a definite need to provide better working conditions for our dedicated paramedics and firefighters. Presently, our Fire Department employees work a 24-hour shift, soon to be a 48-hour shift. That means that they are working, living, eating and sleeping at the fire station for several days.

Station 1, built in the 1940s, does not have adequate living facilities; our employees there sleep on fold-down beds (Murphy beds) in the same room where they spend the rest of their shift. Chief Gilstorff is working on plans for a new station to be presented to the Township Board later this year. I am in support of a new station, subject to funding.

Would you support a new community center?

This is a long overdue capital improvement. We need a community center, with the capability for accommodating a large group of people for a meeting or for housing in an emergency. It is possible that such a room could be located in the new Fire Department building.

Final Thoughts

Any other comments you’d like to add?

Thanks, Jane.

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SUPPORT YOUR INDEPENDENT LOCAL NEWSPAPER: 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. Thank you so much for your support! -Jane Boursaw, Editor/Publisher, Old Mission Gazette

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