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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

February 4, 2019

The Detroit News. January 30, 2019

Slow down the revolving door

The revolving door keeps spinning in Lansing, delivering politicians from their elected offices into high-paid lobbying jobs with barely a moment in between.

At least seven state officials who found themselves without posts when their terms expired on Jan. 1 are now at work trying to influence their former colleagues, according to a Detroit News report.

Among them: former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who in his campaign for governor advocated a two-year waiting period between the time a politician leaves office and when he or she can register as a lobbyist.

Also on the list are former state Reps. Tim Greimel and Robert Kosowski, and former state Sens. Dave Hildenbrand, Goeff Hansen and Dave Knezek.

In addition, new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has hired several former lobbyists to staff key positions in her administration, including Daniel Eichinger (who lobbied for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs) as director of the Department of Natural Resources, and Liesl Clark (who ran a green energy lobbying firm) as environmental quality director.

Twenty-six states have laws requiring cooling-off periods ranging from one to six years before elected officials can do lobbying work. Michigan only bans politicians from resigning during their terms to become lobbyists.

The waiting periods reduce ethical conflicts and ease public concerns about the cozy relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.

The threat is that lawmakers and others nearing the end of their terms will exchange favorable treatment for interest groups in exchange for the promise of future jobs.

Waiting periods also guard against politicians using information they were privy to in the Legislature to boost their lobbying value.

Michigan has one of the weakest ethics laws in the nation governing its elected officials, and as a result gets a failing grade for transparency and accountability from the Center for Public Integrity.

Adopting a lobbying waiting period would be one step toward strengthening ethics laws and assuring the public that elected officials are serving their interests.

Beyond that, the state must put in place clearer rules for the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers. The current reporting requirements for meals, gifts, travel and tickets are skimpy, and allow considerable room for lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers who are making critical decisions affecting their clients.

Term limits have contributed to the problem. Lawmakers are constantly looking ahead to their next job, and when they run out of political offices to seek, lobbying is an attractive alternative.

There’s also always a fresh crop of green lawmakers who need schooling on issues, increasing the demand for lobbyists with an understanding of the legislative process.

Turning to the Legislature to fill this ethical gap is a long shot. The Legislature has been reluctant to hold itself to higher standards. Current lawmakers have their own future careers to consider.

In other states, including Florida, voters have adopted cooling-off periods at the ballot. Florida’s recently passed law requires a six year wait, the longest in the nation.

Michigan is ready for a ballot proposal that would strengthen ethics rules across the board for lawmakers, including adding a reasonable waiting periods between legislating and lobbying.

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The Mining Journal. January 31, 2019

New UPAWS facility is real community asset to facilitate adoptions

On Tuesday, the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter opened the doors to its new facility, located at 815 M-553 South in Gwinn (Sands Township). The shelter spent the previous two weeks relocating from the old shelter to the new one.

“This is going to be a wonderful facility for the community to come and gather and celebrate animals,” said Ann Brownell, UPAWS community outreach director.

The new shelter is approximately four times larger than the previous facility in Negaunee Township, and the the dog kennels and cat areas have been updated while also adding a dedicated space for small critters and a fully functional pole barn for the rescue of large and farm animals, particularly horses.

For a shelter that does as much for our furry friends as UPAWS does, it was long overdue for them to get a proper facility to operate out of. Not to mention, the new location is wide open, which gives the animals a chance to roam a bit more than they might have been able to at the previous location.

Other aspects of the new facility include a community education room, fenced-in year-round dog park and private spaces for adoption counseling or to surrender an animal.

As animal lovers ourselves, we are grateful to have such a great local facility. UPAWS doesn’t receive operating funds from any governmental agency — it relies on donations from the community to stay in operation. Keep in mind, this is a shelter that saves consistently 98 percent of the animals who come through its doors. That is a testament both to the support of our community, as well as the shelter’s dedication to help all animals. Several of us at the Journal have acquired some of our best buddies from animal shelters, and as a result, it only seems logical to support this local shelter as much as we can.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony is in the works for early March but no dates have been decided. To learn more about UPAWS, call 906-475-6661, email info@upaws.org, or visit www.upaws.org.

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Petoskey News-Revieew. February 1, 2019

An unfortunate development for economic development

We were disappointed to learn of Emmet County’s recent parting of ways with the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance.

The county board recently reached an impasse with the regional economic development organization over the fee to be paid for Emmet’s membership.

After some earlier resistance on the county’s part to the 2019 fee, Boyne City-based Northern Lakes proposed reductions of 5 percent in the charges for the four counties it serves — from $89,667 to $85,183 in Emmet’s case. Commissioners voted in December to pursue a contract with a 10 percent membership fee reduction instead, but the following month voted to rescind that proposal after receiving no response from Northern Lakes as to whether it would be acceptable.

In January, commissioner Toni Drier noted that she had second thoughts about her support for seeking the contract with the further fee reduction. With “administration, civil counsel and staff” available to negotiate on the county’s behalf, Drier said leaving the task to them seemed more appropriate than the board handling it directly.

When the board — now including three commissioners newly seated for 2019 — took up Drier’s proposal to rescind the contract offer, the vote was 4-2 in favor of doing so. Drier, Jim Kargol, Izzy Lyman and Charlie MacInnis voted to rescind. Commissioners Bill Shorter and David White voted no on the measure — noting concerns that a reversal of stance could put the county in a bad position for the future — while commissioner Neil Ahrens was absent from the meeting.

Days after the vote to rescind the contract, Northern Lakes issued a letter indicating it accepted Emmet officials’ decision and would no longer be providing services to the county.

In a recent News-Review story, Northern Lakes president Andy Hayes noted one ramification of the outcome: Although the economic development group has relationships with individual cities, villages, townships, private entities and other partners within Emmet’s boundaries, the county board makes the decision whether Northern Lakes will operate there.

Counties’ membership contributions for Northern Lakes are calculated using a formula based on their taxable value — and with the highest such value among the four affiliated counties, the fee asked of Emmet was the largest.

Beyond the pure nickel-and-dime factors associated with the membership fee rate, county commissioners have also voiced concerns on matters of principle: County residents are paying for membership without having voted for it, and not all counties pay the same amount for what is, essentially, the same level of service.

We recognize commissioners’ need to exercise care in how public dollars are spent, and wouldn’t discourage dialogue on whether Northern Lakes’ fee structure is a good fit for the parties involved. However, given the range of economic development resources Northern Lakes helps to provide — and the fact that Emmet is home to a relatively large share of the region’s commerce and industry — we’re not ready to conclude it was asking the county for an unreasonable fee.

In a region where family-supporting jobs aren’t particularly plentiful, we see economic development as a legitimate objective for county government to help support. Before firming up resistance to Northern Lakes’ fee proposal, we believe it would have been more prudent for county officials to weigh it against the costs for other methods of delivering such services.

Along with the participating counties, Northern Lakes draws funding support from a variety of other public- and private-sector partners. In a recent News-Review story, Northern Lakes’ Hayes noted recent examples of its job creation and retention efforts in Emmet County — including efforts to help wood products company Manthei Veneer line up resources to rebuild after a fire, and to aid another company, Lanzen, in securing a new, larger site for its local manufacturing operations — where it expects to expand production as well as employment.

Among other economic development offerings, we also recall situations in which Northern Lakes has:

— aided sizable Emmet County employers in pursuing tax incentives for projects which can help preserve or add jobs

— worked with other local organizations to arrange training opportunities for skills sought by local manufacturers

— offered resources to help budding entrepreneurs carry forward with business launches

All in all, the group’s regional scale allows it to provide a fairly wide breadth of services. For the amount of the Northern Lakes membership fee, we’re doubtful that Emmet County could staff an operation of its own to provide a similar scope of offerings.

We would remind Emmet officials of the importance of economic development resources in the communities they represent, and urge the board of commissioners to give some careful consideration to options for providing such services locally going forward. If participation in the Northern Lakes partnership is shown to offer good value, we’d urge the parties to reopen dialogue in that direction.

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