Candidates for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners detailed their platforms in videos uploaded Tuesday. They discussed priorities for the county amid the COVID-19 pandemic and pressing issues facing local governments.
The University of Michigan Central Campus and the surrounding area are represented by Commissioner Jason Morgan, D-District 8, who is running for reelection and currently serves as the chair of the Board of Commissioners.
The videos were posted by the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, a nonpartisan organization aiming to increase participation in local government and educate people on the democratic process.
Morgan is running against Republican Joan Knoertzer, who was invited but did not attend the event. The candidates challenging Commissioner Katie Scott, D-District 9, who is up for reelection in District 9, and Democrat Caroline Sanders, who is running in District 4, did not attend the event either. Because Morgan, Scott and Sanders did not have opponents present to debate, they participated together in one event.
Douglas Allen moderated the conversation.
“The world has changed a great deal since most of you decided to run for office,” Allen said. “The global pandemic, ensuing economic collapse and more recently the Black Lives Matter Movement have focused attention on how these matters highlight the disproportionate burdens shouldered by the poor, the elderly and communities of color. These present challenges to government at all levels.”
Morgan said the board is trying to accelerate its work to address inequality. He said he has a series of priorities he hopes to address in the future, among them addressing climate change and confronting social and racial injustice.
“I think the budget is where we do that work,” Morgan said. “… It sometimes makes things uncomfortable when we say we need to really truly address racial inequity and reallocate some funds from some areas of the county, but I think that’s what we’re talking about here and how we achieve real, structural change in our community going forward.”
Scott, who also represents parts of Ann Arbor, is the current Ways and Means Chair. She said many of the most pressing issues the board will face following the COVID-19 pandemic are related to the budget. Scott said feedback from county residents will be essential in putting the budget together.
“I’m not the first person to say this, but I believe the budget is a moral document and we will have to be thinking about what our morals are, what our priorities are, to do that budget,” Scott said.
Sanders said resource allocation will be a pivotal issue.
“We will have to put greater emphasis on the priority of putting people first and in making sure that we not only in word but in deed prove by our actions and our allocations that we are interested in protecting those that are the most vulnerable first and others as needed,” Sanders said.
Morgan discussed Michigan’s ongoing challenges with clean water, particularly with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.
PFAS, which has been found in the Washtenaw County water supply, is a group of manmade chemicals used in manufacturing. These chemicals can cause a variety of negative health effects, including cancer and changes in the immune system.
“I think the protection of our water is the biggest environmental concern in our community at this time,” Morgan said.
The participants also discussed homelessness in Washtenaw County. In March, when COVID-19 began to spread, the county paid for hotel rooms for people experiencing housing insecurity. Morgan said he would work to continue this support.
“The biggest thing is ensuring that we have a way to keep those who are in our shelters safe and fed … We’re still working on it but I’ve heard the message from residents loud and clear that we need to keep our homeless community safe,” Morgan said.
In her closing statement, Scott said she is passionate about her work in the county and advocating for people.
“One of the things this pandemic has really shown us is the underpinnings of inequality in not only our country, but in our county as well,” Scott said.
Morgan said his personal experiences informed his approach to governing.
“The one thing we don’t really get to do as public officials as often as you would think is share who we are as people,” Morgan said. “… As a young LGBTQ individual growing up in this community … paired with growing up with a disability has shaped a lot of my experiences and how I approach government. And it’s really the reason I am here doing this job today. I am here because I care about making people’s lives better.”
Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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