Eaton County Commissioner District 4

Eaton County Commissioner District 4, vote for 1

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  • Gina Johnsen

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    Howard T. Spence

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Biographical Information

What makes you more qualified than other candidates for this office?

Should the county spend more on parks? Yes or no, please explain.

Is the quality of county roads acceptable? Yes or no, please explain.

Do you support raising taxes as a way to pay for road improvements? Yes or no, please explain.

Are you comfortable with the structure and scope of county government? Yes or no, please explain.

To promote efficiency and lower costs should the role of county government expand and the role of city and township government shrink? Yes or no, please explain.

Related to government structure, what would you change?

What are the three most important issues facing the county and how would you address them?

As property tax revenue and state aid decline, is it appropriate for the county to assume a larger role in providing services to county residents? Yes or no, please explain.

What county services do you consider most vital?

What county services are least vital and can be trimmed to lower expenses?

Are you current in all tax, alimony and child support obligations? Yes or no. If no, please explain.

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Hometown Delta Township, Michigan where I have lived 25+ years.
Education BA, Mich State U (Honors College); MS, MSU Schl Criminal Justice; MBA, MSU Broad Grad School of Management; JD, Univ of Michigan Law School; MPA, Univ of Mich Gerald Ford School of Public Policy; MLIR, MSU School of Labor and Industrial Relations; Numerous prof legal and management courses in continuing education (various schools)
Family Divorced, three grown children
Professional Experience Incumbent Eaton County Commissioner for Delta twp; Attorney at Law, dba Spence and Associates Consultants (semi-retired); Independent Arbitrator, historically on AAA and FINRA arbitration panels,(semi-retired)Black-Gold Associates, LLC; Retired 33 year state of Michigan employee serving as Ad Law Judge, Deputy Insurance Commissioner, Asst Director of Policy - Mich Pub Svc Cmmn, Personnel Administrator, Mich Dept of Commerce, Prison Administrator, Mich Dept of Corrections; Numerous public and private board memberships including ACLU Lansing area, NAACP, Mich Assn Counties Public Safety & Judiciary Committee, State Bar of Mich committees including SBM ADR council and representing SBM members on U Mich Law School Institute of Continuing Legal Education; Adjunct Prof at Cooley Law School 1978-80; Adjunct prof at Univ of Phoenix 2005-10;Who's Who (Marquis publications) in Law, Business and Finance, Government, Midwest, America; Past editor ABA Judicial Div Ad Law Section publication; American Judges Association (Ret.); Assoc of Black Judges of Michigan; Insurance Regulatory Examiners Society and NAIC; ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY, INC.; TRI-COUNTY OFFICE ON AGING BOARD MEMBER.
Political Experience Incumbent Eaton County Commissioner (seeking third term); TCRPC Commissioner, Tri-County Regional Planning Commn; National President, Insurance Regulatory Examiners Society.
I am the incumbent in this position, already twice elected and seeking my third term. I am experienced and knowledgeable in many of the issues and problems which must be addressed by a county commissioner. I am an Independent, progressive Democrat who works collaboratively and respectfully with members of the Board from both sides of the political aisle. I have a record on issues and leadership of which I am very proud. I am semi-retired, and spend many hours each week in the community addressing issues and being a "cheer leader" for Delta and Eaton county. I have a regional perspective and value both employers and workers, diversity and Inclusion. I'm not a "hater" and value God in my life.
Significant increases in tax dollars for parks is not something that I would push or prioritize. Any extra dollars in the county budget should go to priority county duties such as keeping us safe in our homes or encouraging development of better jobs. I recently seconded the proposal to purchase the Crandall Lake property for a park near Charlotte. The acquisition of the Crandall Lake property is paid for by a DNR fund grant, and a contribution of the county's obligation to the deal by the property seller. I value and use the township paths and parks in Delta, and I see value in enhanced county parks. Park development should occur soon from public/private collaborative projects or user fees.
No. The quality and condition of Eaton COUNTY roads is presently less than acceptable. Deferred maintenance of roads will only make for an even greater cost and burden when at some point in the future we have no choice but to fix the roads or "kiss them goodbye." The advocacy of county residents for improvements in the 5 Point highway in out county Eaton recently resulted in a renewed effort by the county road commission to make engineering and maintenance changes there that would make the road more functional. Roads in more rural, isolated areas with less traffic will always be relatively more expensive to maintain per passenger mile of usage. Delta's roads undoubtedly need more attention!
No. In Delta and Eaton county we already did this through a millage presented to voters a year ago which passed. At that time I did not believe that Delta residents I represented were getting a fair return of road services for the tax dollars Delta paid. I now represent my fellow Eaton Cty commissioners on the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission which has responsibility to manage and prioritize dollars spent for road repairs throughout the tri-county area. I work hard to make sure Eaton and Delta get their fair share of transportation dollars and projects from federal and state MDOT funds allocated to TCRPC. The state road plan passed by the legislature last year was flawed and unfair.
Yes. I recognize the scope of authority given to counties and operate within that statutory limitation. One of my concerns about the role of counties is that the legislature continues to be less than responsible by enacting new laws and requirements which must be implemented by county governments, but fails to properly fund those mandates, County government then has a difficult and sometimes impossible job to provide new services without add'l state funds. Unfunded mandates eventually lead to either having to raise local millages (taxes), or to reallocate funds available to projects of less of a priority to county residents. I work with the Mich Assn of Counties to fight unfunded mandates.
No. I don't believe that an expansion of the role of Eaton county government would be in the interest of residents in more urban areas like Delta Township. At the present time taxpayers and residents in Delta are "donors" financially to more rural areas, and townships and cities presently also have greater statutory powers granted by the legislature to enact ordinances to address needs of their residents than do counties. One concern that I have is that constituents in my district are not yet well served by county services provided by some independent county wide agencies/authorities such as EATRAN -which often seem to be less transparent, accountable, responsible, or "customer" oriented.
Nothing now. Change in county government structure would be difficult to effect in the partisan and statutory environment in which we presently exist. The daily operations of our county government are entrusted to our county controller - who reports to our board of commissioners. Our commissioners are part time elected officials, who generally must work reg full time jobs and do not seem to have considerable add'l time to invest. I recommended expansion to the County Road Cmmn which was adopted with bipartisan support - AT ALMOST NO COST to taxpayers. The expansion provided an additional road commissioner - living in Delta Twp - to represent our road interests better at the county road cmmn.
Priority issues which I continue to work on: 1. Providing a safe, peaceful community for our residents, children, and guests. Establishing a balanced, respectful, and collaborative interaction between members of the public, our sheriff's deputies, courts, jails and corrections agencies; assuring social justice in county government. 2. Greater diversity, inclusion, human relations in our government workforce. 3. Better, fixed route bus public transportation in Delta. 4. Assuring Delta residents get a fair return on tax dollars; keeping our taxes reasonable. 5. Economic development & creating good paying jobs. 6. Greater cooperation. 7. Better mental health services. 8. Risk Management focus.
No. We have a mandate to balance our budgets. If the legislature cuts our access to funds for services, where would the funding come from for providing additional or new public services at the county level? The people should hold the legislature's feet to the fire to fund programs that they mandate, or which are a basic part of the governance of our people required by law or the state constitution. IF there are funds for program expansion, then look to see if there is a role for county government to expand or assume greater roles in deliver of services. In a time when we must address "unfunded liabilities" and promises already on our books, it is hardly prudent to try to take on new costs.
The primary government function we provide at the county level is keeping our people safe, and providing a court system to adjudicate our disputes. Close behind is providing health and welfare services that keep us healthy and alive. High on that list would also be educating and caring for our kids and the next generation - responsibilities which county government and the Board of Commissioners are generally not involved in directly.

Public safety, public justice, public health, education, then community development and unity in diversity and inclusion and a peaceful, loving, and respectful community. These should be our goals.
I am not advocating reduction of services presently existing "to lower expenses." My thought is to determine if a service is affordable, in the public interest, and wanted by the residents and tax payers. I often decry as folly calls to cut government or lower expenses just for the sake of saying you did it - often just political policy rhetoric. "Penny Wise and Pound Foolish!"

You only need look at the fiasco our state government caused in Flint Michigan trying to save $150 a day "to lower expenses" and the $600 million dollar bill we now face as a state to correct the "benefits" of those near sighted, business model, "save money" decisions.