|Garry Nielsen is the owner and creative director of Nielson & Associates, an advertising firm, and the chairman of the Waterford Democratic Club.|
Garry Nielsen is among five Democrats running in the Aug. 7 primary election for seats on the Waterford Township Board of Trustees. The four Democrats with the highest vote total will advance to compete against four Republicans in the Nov. 6 general election to fill four trustee positions. Township trustees serve four-year terms and are currently paid $10,976 annually.
The following are questions we posed to Nielsen, and his responses to those questions.
BUDGET: Years of revenue decline prompted by falling home values and other reasons have forced a variety of budget cuts. What changes in township budgeting priorities or processes do you advocate to deal with these hurdles? Where could the township’s budget be trimmed back? What, if anything, in the budget should be held harmless from the budget ax?
NIELSEN: Significant cuts have already been made. Among other things, we’re down 50 employees over the last few years. Any further cuts should be in hours and compensation rather than losing more people. But cuts are only half the process of balancing a budget. The other is generating new income. Since the state is now showing a surplus due to the governor’s and Legislature’s heartless defunding and taxing policies, I’d be lobbying Michigan for state aid and grants. And the federal government, as well. What should be “held harmless?” Our fine police force and great library, both of which have already endured cutbacks. Anything further would jeopardize our citizens’ safety and children’s education.
POLICE/FIRE DISPATCH: Some on the township board have come forward with a proposal to contract with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department for police and fire dispatch services as a way to save money. Explain why you do or don’t support the proposal.
NIELSEN: I support our fine dispatchers, not this ill-thought out proposal. Our dispatchers are fellow members of or have roots in our community. They’re our neighbors. As such, they know our streets and neighborhoods as well as our police officers and firefighters do. The result is fast and expeditious dispatching for emergencies when time and efficiency are crucial. A remote arrangement with the already overly stretched Sheriff’s Department would delay responses and jeopardize our citizens’ safety. And it’s a slippery slope from this to abolishing our police department in favor of sheriff’s deputies, a proposal I will never support! And I do not want to see Waterford become yet another outsourcer of jobs!
EMERGENCY FINANCIAL MANAGER: Some people have speculated that the township will be forced to come under the authority of an emergency financial manager (EFM) within the next two years. Please state why you do or don’t agree that such speculation has merit.
NIELSEN: I don’t believe in the validity of financial managers. They’re a clear violation of democracy and voters’ rights. The financial managers are the ones chosen by the people and elected by the people. And no, I don’t think it will happen. The supervisor has done a masterful job of navigating us through the economic downturn, and will continue to do it even more effectively with the replacement of a few dissident, contrary board members. To avoid an emergency manager, our board needs cooperative members, unity and a focused common purpose: to work hard together to see our community through these difficult times. Then, we’ll be fine.
WASTE COLLECTION: Waterford currently has a waste collection system under which each individual resident and business is left to secure their own trash collection service, but it’s been proposed that the township change that by carving up the community into waste collection districts and soliciting bids from haulers to serve those districts. How, if at all, should the township’s current waste collection system be changed, and why?
NIELSEN: Pun intended, I see this proposal as a waste … of time. It’s a lot of talk about nothing. No, it shouldn’t be changed. I believe in freedom of choice, not board dictates. Each homeowner is fully capable of deciding who picks up their trash. At a time when the township is getting ever leaner by losing staff, doing the same amount of work with fewer people, why on Earth should it take on more and unnecessary administrative duties? The township is not in the garbage business. Nor, should it be.
SUMMIT PLACE: Essentially vacant and an eyesore, the Summit Place Mall has been the subject of a number of proposals for redevelopment. However, there has yet to be a large-scale redevelopment proposal to come to fruition? What is your vision for the future of the Summit Place Mall site? What would you do, if anything, as a township trustee to ensure that vision becomes reality?
NIELSEN: I have a question for your question: Why does everyone seem to assume this is the government’s problem? Yes, it’s an eyesore. But Summit Place is a private enterprise. The fundamental reason it’s vacant is economic. The major retailers couldn’t make enough profit in that location or they’d still be there. The township did what it could to help with property tax breaks for the owners. The rest is up to them. I’m sure they aren’t happy paying even reduced taxes with no income. Perhaps they could lower their sights and approach lower-end retailers. But all the township can do is continue urging them to do something. But … if it’s to be viewed as a government problem … I’d say it’s also Oakland County’s. Where are they (or he) in all this?
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
NIELSEN: No. 1. The budget deficit. I’ve already stated how I’d address it above.
No. 2. Friction and disharmony on the current board. It’s counterproductive and an impediment to progress. I’d address it by being elected.
No. 3. The Republican Legislature’s granting of drilling rights to oil companies. Many of the targeted areas are under and around our wonderful signature lakes, threatening both our environment and property values. I’d immediately propose a ban on oil company “fracking” in Waterford.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponents?
NIELSEN: Because of my wealth of executive experience leading and directing both in business and on various volunteer boards. I know how to get consensus. I know how to lead. I know Waterford and its needs, having lived here for 27 years. And this is not a springboard for me, so my decision-making wouldn’t be political. I have no further political ambitions beyond helping my community successfully weather difficult times with no outside interference. And … because I care.