|Laura Vogel has been practicing law for over 20 years, primarily as in-house counsel for Fortune 100 companies. In addition to serving on numerous commissions and committees for the Huron Valley School District in the areas of technology and curriculum strategic planning, she has also served as president in state and local legal organizations, and as an officer in her undergraduate alumni association.|
Laura Vogel is one of three competing in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 Republican primary election for White Lake Township clerk. With no Democratic candidate filed for the position, the winner of the Republican primary contest will be White Lake’s next clerk. The White Lake Township clerk serves four-year terms and currently earns $69,707 annually.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Vogel, and her responses to those questions.
CLERK’S ROLE: Clerks have a role in the township’s financial affairs that is often overlooked. Is there a need for changes or improvements in the way the Clerk’s Office handles these financial responsibilities?
VOGEL: For my part, as somebody who is not able to be involved currently in the day to day intimacies of how local government is run, my frustration has been the inability to access information that should otherwise be readily available to the voters who are paying for those services. So one of the things I would like to do is improve the transparency and visibility to the taxpayers so they have a better ability to assess what is going on.
RECORDS: The township clerk is also responsible for record-keeping and storage of the township’s records and documents. What changes or upgrades, if any, do you anticipate having to make in the way records are kept or stored in the township?
VOGEL: Right now, a great deal of information is kept in a very difficult manner to access it. The website is largely unusable. It’s very difficult to find information regarding what meeting agendas are, what the results of meetings were, what budgets are, what strategic plans are. I’m sure the information exists there, but the ability to find it and to find it in a logical and time efficient manner is lacking. So one of the things that I think I can greatly bring to there is the ability to put a better structure on it so that it’s more readily accessible to the taxpayers.
BUDGET: All municipal governments in Michigan have faced difficult budget scenarios over the past few years, as declines in property values have produced a revenue stream that can’t keep up with various rising costs. 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?
VOGEL: It’s a very complicated process and a very complicated problem. The Headlee Amendment, which was put in place over 20 years ago, capped the rise in taxable values on houses at 6 percent per year. So, local governments can only see, at most, a rise of 3 percent per year because the taxable value is half of the assessed value.
The difficulty is that property values have fallen by a whole lot more than 6 percent per year over the past few years. Even if real estate values recover, the ability for the tax stream to similarly recover is going to take a great deal longer. We need to be able to work cooperatively with the state and the county and our surrounding municipalities to come to a common solution of how to address the revenue shortfall for everyone, not just White Lake.
It’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t have access to that information as we’ve discussed. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s a fair question for somebody who is not already an incumbent to be able to answer coherently. But certainly once I am able to have access to that information, I believe that the best way to do that is to actually have the facts in front of you as opposed to working on people’s personal opinions and personal agendas — to actually sit down and look at the numbers objectively and based upon the priorities that the citizens have come to a level of understanding of where the priorities are best served.
I don’t think there should be any sacred cows, per se. Obviously at some level you have to have a functioning government, but I disagree with any presumption that any particular function or area should be automatically immune just because they are deemed special.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
VOGEL: I think the three most important issues are being able to work cooperatively with the state and county and adjoining communities to find creative ways to ensure that the level of services remains as high as possible at the most efficient, cost effective manner of delivering those services.
The second priority that falls in line with that is providing greater transparency to the taxpayers so that they have a better understanding of how those hard choices are being made and how those services are still being delivered despite the difficult economic times that not only the taxpayers find themselves in, but that the municipalities find themselves in, as well.
The third priority is being able to balance growth with keeping the really enjoyable and peaceful feel that we have out in what I refer to my city friends as out in the “land of well and septic,” where we enjoy a really good quality of life with all the state and open land that we have, and the wildlife and natural resources that we have all around us, and balancing that with the growth to ensure that we still have a strong economic base and a strong small business and entrepreneurial base.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
VOGEL: I believe that fresh ideas and industry experience can aid local government in operating new and creative ways that might not otherwise be considered. Especially in our part of the county, there seems to be a great tendency for the same names to always appear on local ballots. While there is nothing wrong with having the same name, sometimes people automatically vote for the same name just because it’s always the same name that they see without understanding the qualities that that candidate can bring to bear.
I realize that my name is an unfamiliar name and people might not know me. I have a website (where) hopefully people can learn more about me, and every Wednesday morning I make myself available at the local Biggby Coffee where people can come by and chat about things that they think are important to them so that I can learn more about their priorities and they can learn more about me.