Election 2024: Peninsula Township Candidate Q&A - Maura Sanders
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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 Maura Sanders, who is running for the position of Township Supervisor.

About You

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

Maura Sanders, Republican, Township Supervisor.

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

Our Township needs strong community involvement, open communication, dedicated leadership, and transparency. I am running for this position because service is who I am, and I am uniquely qualified to serve as your Township Supervisor.

I have a solid foundational background in logistics management within the Department of Defense. I have the leadership skills and educational foundation as a former commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps with a Bachelor of Science degree in Oceanography and General Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy. I have served in leadership roles on several non-profit and volunteer boards within the Department of Defense.

I have successfully owned and operated a small business for the last 11 years. I have been married for 24 years to a, now retired, U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and have raised two young women through the trials of being a military household. I know how to communicate clearly. I know how to coach and mentor in leadership roles. I excel at organization. I know how to get things done!

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

I am currently an appointed Town Board Trustee, Fall 2023, and formerly elected Trustee, 2016. Prior to that I was the Park Commission Chair.

How long have you lived on the Old Mission Peninsula?

I have owned a home on Old Mission Peninsula since May 2013, when my husband accepted U.S. Marine Corps retirement orders and we planted roots here!

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 100 percent support maintaining the rural character of Peninsula Township. I would like the Peninsula to look the same in 10, 20, 50 years from now unless the public feedback via the Township Survey and Master Plan call for change.

The Master Plan is the vehicle that drives the zoning process. Our Township character is decided by the will of the voters. The most recent survey data and Master Plan express the desire to stay rural in character, support agriculture and keep any commercial enterprise to a minimum.

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

I support the voice of the voters and the due process the Planning Commission, our legislative body, provides for ALL property owners, regardless of property type, location, and chain of title history.

Previously, regarding The 81 on East Bay vote before the Town Board, I voted against the development; specifically, I did not believe that all the standards had been met for environmental and shoreline controls. Regardless of The 81 on East Bay/Peninsula Shores, I strongly believe in the preservation of the developable acres using the robust and successful Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

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

I hold myself to the highest standards of ethics. Transparency is one of the three tenants of my campaign, with consistency and leadership being the other two.

The Township finances are reported monthly at the Town Board meetings and in the meeting minutes. Since learning the ropes of the Township Budget Process this fiscal year, I am committed to providing quarterly reviews for the public to keep oversight on the Township finances.

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

Through Transparency, Consistency and Leadership, I will continue to make the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula lawsuit my top priority. The damages being sought are beyond anything that all our residents can fathom, and the demands are far beyond what the residents have expressed support for. Nobody wins when it is neighbor vs. neighbor.

I look forward to the updated Master Plan and the next Township Survey to ensure that consistent zoning is in place to benefit ALL residents, taxpayers and business owners. I have been a part of the lawsuit since being appointed Trustee in late September 2023.

I have taken the lead to immerse myself in the details of the case, participated in negotiations, as well as the workings of the Township. I have volunteered significant unpaid hours to support my learning curve. This will afford me an enormous head start in the Supervisor’s position. I can promise all residents that I will be a Full-Time Supervisor to work for the benefit of all of us.

Citizen Engagement

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

Peninsula Township can provide more channels for up-to-date and accurate information flow. We do not have the capacity for a “public affairs” office, but I am fully capable of providing timely information via a Supervisor’s feed on NextDoor, LinkedIn, Facebook, and hopefully the Old Mission Gazette.

The Township already does an outstanding job of getting the meeting agendas, meeting packets and meeting minutes to the public. The Township already publishes an informative newsletter. I think adding an extra element of social media for the public is a great tool.

I also think, if one of our south end community spiritual providers or businesses would be interested, I would love to hold Township Office Hours in an extra space for any residents that would like to come in and discuss things concerning them. I would be happy to provide information and feedback in person. It is important to be able to connect with everyone when they want to connect.

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?

Our Township volunteers are truly outstanding! We have been so fortunate to have community members interested and engaged with the desire to contribute for the betterment of all.

To increase the pool of volunteers would require the need/request for volunteers being broadcast. I have knocked on so many doors already for my campaign and many people ask about volunteering. With the establishment of the recent Shoreline Regulation Study Group, Building Height Study Group, and soon to be Agricultural Advisory Committee, it is obvious the community is very willing to step up with expertise and experience from so many diverse backgrounds.

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

I support everyone having an equal opportunity and right to engage with the Board. I think the study groups and committees are the most appropriate place for back-and-forth discussions. I was incredibly pleased with the back-and-forth discussions during the Township Strategic Planning session this last winter.

I strongly support the Public Comment on the Town Board agenda. I believe the Boards/Commissions should limit any back-and-forth discussions during public comment. However, the Supervisor and/or Chair of the meeting may provide brief factual information, if appropriate. The reason for this is to not degenerate into lecturing or criticism.

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

I believe in transparency, and I agree that the Township offices need fluidity between the staff and the public. Safety is always a concern, and having the proper protocols in place is paramount.

The guidance the Township leadership has received from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office is the best protocol to keep our staff and citizens safe with the buzz-in system. I support the offices needing to maintain an appointment schedule, but I would also like to see room for “office hours” for the walk-in appointments.

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?

Yes, this is true, and it is unfortunate. The Township can and must provide a professional working environment for the staff to perform their duties and thrive in a safe working environment. All Township staff need to be supported by the Board and work in unison with the priorities set by the Board.

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

Unfortunately, the Township funding for our Parks could be cut. We have the most number of volunteers in our Parks, and we are always looking for grant opportunities, but the demands for public safety supersede the demands to keep up with the Parks.

Our Township Fund Balances are classified into three categories: Non-Spendable, Restricted and Unrestricted. The Township does not have the legal ability to use our reserves to cover all the non-statutory demands. Our statutory obligations are: Assess properties, collect taxes, and administer elections.

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

I will adhere to due process. It is the law, and all those serving in a leadership position have the ethical obligation to do so.

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

The vote of the people is the ONLY way I would support the move to Charter Township. My personal vote on a ballot initiative would be ‘No.’ I believe the Township has not had the opportunity to figure out what holes need to be plugged before moving forward with a ballot initiative of this immense structural change.

The Board has the responsibility of keeping the fiduciary interests of our residents first and foremost, and as such, we are charged with performing due diligence in exploring all potential forms of fiscal stewardship. We are currently doing this by working with our hired third-party consultants from Maner Costerisan to provide an accurate picture of our Processes, Structure and Financial picture, including our human capital.

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?

We offer a Monday-Thursday work schedule to hire and retain highly qualified professionals that are willing to accept a lower salary than they command.

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?

The burden of these permit fees should be shouldered by the developers/builders. The escrow funds are to cover the required professional services necessary in the permitting process. The Township, for too long, had shouldered the brunt of the excess for professional services in the review process, and that cost was being levied against the taxpayers. The escrow fund is set up to capture those costs up front, and then the remainder, if any, is reimbursed back to the applicant.

Master Plan, Ordinance and Enforcement

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

First, I believe that anybody running for office in our Township should be compliant with our ordinances. The voters should know if the candidates are compliant, coming into compliance, or have refused to comply.

I have had the opportunity to discuss zoning enforcement with our enforcement officer. He has explained, and I agree, that the position is more of a zoning “compliance” officer. He has rarely issued a ticket in the last several years of employment. He has responded to complaints submitted to the Township. He tries to work with the property owner to figure out how to come into compliance. There is a record of communications exchanged, or sent, between the Township and the property owner.

Sometimes, owners just refuse to comply, so a ticket is issued. If the ticket is not paid at the Township and the violation is not corrected, then the file moves to the 86th District Court and the adjudication is sought via the court system.

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 Township 2024 budget has increased funding for enforcement activities up to 20 hours/month vs. 8 hours/month. However, we do not have the budget to continue to request property owners to come into compliance if they keep refusing, so the District Court takes over.

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.

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

I will follow it as written.

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

I think that the current version, passed by the Planning Commission on July 2, 2024, is an outstanding culmination of work done by everyone involved over the last several years. Our Planner has done an outstanding job.

I am looking forward to the Agricultural Advisory Committee to become operational because the next Master Plan has the ability to provide for more robust agricultural opportunities that will lead to a better future for agriculture in Peninsula Township.

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?

I was on the Township Board during the WOMP litigation, since September 2023, so I am prohibited from discussing settlement discussions.

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?

I am furious that the residents would have to shoulder this incredible burden if the Township insurance does not cover all of the potential damages.

Regarding the Wineries:

  • Should they be allowed to have unlimited weddings? No.
  • Should they be allowed to operate full-service restaurants? No.
  • Should they be allowed to be open until 2 a.m.? No.
  • Should they be required to support OMP farmers via collaborations and/or using locally-grown produce? Yes.

Overall, what are your thoughts on the winery lawsuit?

Unfortunately, the decision is with Judge Paul Maloney, U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan. As a recent appointee to the Township Board, well after the lawsuit was underway, I’ve immersed myself in the details of the case. We cannot change the past; we can learn from it and make it streamlined and defensible for the future.

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?

I 100 percent support value added agriculture, not value added commercialism.

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

I will assist by being an active listener in the Agricultural Advisory Committee meetings. I will take the committee feedback and requests to the Planner and Planning Commission to review. I will be happy to provide recommendations of mentorship with the farmers in the community. I will be happy to provide direct introductions to the MSU Extension professionals. I will also help educate and make introductions regarding our Purchase of Development Rights program and how that can be a great benefit as far as fair market pricing for land.

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?

Yes and yes.

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

Yes. I also believe that the advice and wisdom of the Agricultural Advisory Committee will be better equipped to answer this question.

Taxes

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

No Planning, no zoning, no assessing, no parks maintenance, no solid funding stream for public safety, major election disruptions, and our fiduciary responsibility to the residents would be in total peril, making the Township liable for all legal performance dereliction.

No taxes sounds like a great deal until you realize that there is not an alternative foundational plan in place and ready to roll out that will cover ALL our Township obligations.

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

Our Parks need funding. There are several ways to seek it. Parks Millage and Headlee Rollback are both ballot initiatives and would require the vote of the people. I am currently focused on getting the report from our third-party consultants on the who/what/where/when and how and human capital of the township.

What are your thoughts on the Headlee Rollback?

The Headlee Rollback ballot initiative was just set aside by the Town Board. We voted 7-0 to NOT move forward with it. I think that in the future there may be an appetite for it, but I have a lot of work to do as far as budgeting and forecasting the 5- and 10-year financial plans before jumping on a ballot initiative.

Other Township Issues

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

Yes.

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

I do think that it should be fixed and re-opened. Whether it’s a two-way road, a one-way road or a two-way with a stop sign for single lane passage is up to the engineers and the affordability.

The Supervisor has the responsibility of collaborating with our regional partners to look for ways to support the Township. The Township is currently working with the Road Commission and the Appropriation Request submitted to Sen. Gary Peters’ office for the The Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) through FEMA to get a viable solution for Bluff Road.

We are not allowed to touch Restricted and Non-Spendable accounts, so securing support from outside agencies and/or private donations is paramount.

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?

Our zoning ordinance does not allow for short-term rentals. Until the day comes when the demand from the citizens influences an updated plan that then updates our ordinances – they are not allowed. I do not operate a short-term rental.

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

I support developments that are within the parameters of our zoning ordinances and guided by the Master Plan. However, more than anything, I strongly support and demand that all prep work, site surveys and environmental surveys are both mandatory and strongly enforced.

As previously stated, I support maintaining the rural character of the Old Mission Peninsula. I value our Purchase of Development Rights program, and I hope that agriculture remains in perpetuity and that the large landowners are looking out for the future generations of this beautiful Township.

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

Survey -> Master Plan -> Zoning Ordinance additions/amendments -> repeat. The power is with the people and their voice.

Do you support a non-motorized pathway similar to the TART Trail throughout the Old Mission Peninsula? How would you make that happen when a trail cannot cross farmland due to farming rules and regulations?

Yes. The Township would need to take a serious look at our geography and topography to figure out the best path forward. This undertaking would take significant third-party funding.

The last survey was in strong support of this effort, but the winery lawsuit has limited those financial resources to get started. I think that collaborating with our regional community partners to look for funding streams for a feasibility study and engineering study are where we start.

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)?

Yes. These collaborative relationships are vital for our success to be able to provide a healthy and safe place to live, work, play and thrive.

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

Yes. If you would like a tour of the Mapleton Fire Station #1, please reach out to Chief Gilstorff.

Would you support a new community center?

I certainly would if the residents had a strong demand for it. It is always nice to have a safe location to hold events, meetings and anything else that would require a use.

Final Thoughts

Any other comments you’d like to add?

I will be a Full-Time Township Supervisor. I am qualified, I am committed, and I believe that a thriving government is based on participation from the public, and the leadership supporting the voice of the people.

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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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