|Debra Kirkwood was first elected to the Commerce Township Board of Trustees in 2004 and currently serves as the board’s liaison to the Planning Commission. She is chair of the Lakes Area Youth Assistance board, served as Taste of the Lakes from 2006 to 2008 and is a member of Orchard Grove Community Church. A former Commerce Township employee, she has been self-employed since 2000.|
Commerce Township Supervisor Tom Zoner is facing a Republican primary challenger in Trustee Debra Kirkwood in the Aug. 7 primary election. There are no Democrats running in the election, so the winner of the primary election will be elected to a four-year term that pays $79,039 annually.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Kirkwood and her response to those questions.
LEADERSHIP: As supervisor, at what point do you believe you should disregard public sentiment, and cast a vote on an item based on your own knowledge and feelings about how an issue impacts the greater community?
KIRKWOOD: Public sentiment should never be disregarded. However, most issues brought before the board are not met favorably by everyone. I have always listened to the public, and my votes are cast based on the facts presented, having a thorough understanding of the issue and the impact it will have on the entire township, not just now but in years to come. Decisions made by the board involve current residents and their families, as well as those who just visit our community briefly. I think about the intended outcome, and how the decision could affect my children, my grand-daughters and one day, their children. If it is indeed beneficial for the majority and a necessity, I will cast a vote in favor of it, ever mindful and weighing the voice of the opposition.
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?
KIRKWOOD: Unfortunately, our current budget has been pared down to eliminate most items that are non-essential. I will present a balanced budget and ensure that the current level of services is maintained. My goal is to increase services and staffing levels as revenues increase. The housing market has bottomed out and now appears to be rebounding slowly. I don’t expect to see tremendous increase in (property) values, but rather a slow and steady upward turn. The priorities in my budget will be public safety, fire and police protection. Those items should always be safe from the ax.
MARTIN PARKWAY: The current economic climate and deterioration in the real estate market has hindered the Downtown Development Authority’s ability to sell the DDA property along Martin Parkway to developers for local and national retail stores. Now the township has to help repay DDA bonds that paid for Martin Parkway project. What, if anything, needs to be done differently to ensure that land is developed effectively? What is your vision for that area of Commerce Township, and the development of the township in general?
KIRKWOOD: The Downtown Development Authority acquired the property along Martin Parkway in 2004 before the real estate crash. At that time, a marketing plan was presented for development of the area which included upscale commercial retail and residential properties, even potential senior housing. I would like to see the property retain the character of the original plan, although the components will be slightly different. While sales of the property to reduce debt is a key element, we also need to ensure that any potential purchaser of the property brings forth a plan that would enhance the natural beauty of the area. This area is the gateway to our community and as such it must be developed properly. I would also like to see a rebirth in the village area near the Byers Homestead with more local businesses, and I’d love to see a farmers market to showcase our local crops.
PARKS AND RECREATION: The township has for some time been in the process of acquiring a portion of the Proud Lake State Recreation Area, a final step in which has been put on hold because of state payments in lieu of taxes. Does the township need more open space? Why or why not? What additional steps, if any, would you like the township to take to make sure residents have abundant parks and recreation opportunities?
KIRKWOOD: The question of open space has been addressed by the board on numerous occasions. There are a limited number of large parcels available in the township. With the acquisition of the Proud Lake parcel, I will not pursue additional land. Personally I prefer that the funding we receive from the open space and parks millage be directed to the improvement of our current parks, pathways and the Richardson Center.
HAGGERTY ROAD: There has long been a stalemate between Commerce and West Bloomfield townships about Commerce’s desire to widen the two-lane stretch of road between Pontiac Trail and Richardson Road. Do you support widening Haggerty to allow for better traffic flow? Why or why not? If so, what can or should the township do to see the proposal to fruition?
KIRKWOOD: As a traveler of Haggerty Road, I experience the same misery along with the rest of the residents. Traffic studies have indicated that the flow is poor at this time and will be failing in the near future; I think the future is upon us. As supervisor I will initiate a relationship and dialogue with the West Bloomfield officials and board concerning their resolution to prevent the widening of Haggerty Road. I would seek the support of the community, township trustees, and the Road Commission (for) Oakland County in this venture. If a joint meeting of the two boards was able to come to fruition, I will proceed to that end.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
KIRKWOOD: No. 1, public safety. No community can succeed or grow without the reciprocated support of their local law enforcement and fire departments. Our community is fortunate to have highly skilled and dedicated men and women on both the Sheriff’s (Department substation) and Fire Department. The Sheriff’s Department does an excellent job and the contract should be maintained, adding additional deputies when funds become available. The Fire Department continues to have excellent response times by our full-time and paid-on-call firefighters and medics. I will strive to see that better use of our resources takes place, by utilizing the new medic units purchased a few years ago to their full potential. I believe that our Fire Department is fully capable and should provide advanced life support services and transporting all medical calls, as opposed to contracting with an outside source. It is a service that pays for itself and generates extra revenue for the department.
No. 2, I will maintain a low tax rate and attract more business to the township through the completion of the Martin Parkway Project reducing the DDA debt, while increasing tax revenues without burdening residents. I will direct the DDA to bring this project to fruition as quickly as possible while trying to closely follow the original plan for the property. While selling off the property will free up resources in the community, allowing the project to wildly divert from the original plan would be a tragedy. Millions of dollars have been spent developing the property, and maintaining its natural beauty. Attracting businesses to this project is the responsibility of not only the DDA director but the supervisor as well. I will meet with prospective purchasers to showcase our community and the benefits of doing business in Commerce Township.
No. 3, communication must improve. In order for our township to continue to grow and thrive, residents, prospective businesses and developers must be able to connect with their local government easily. I will lead the charge to make that happen, whether it’s via social media, the township’s website or even the telephone. The other thing that must improve is communication from the Supervisor’s Office with department heads and trustees. I will make sure I communicate all important day to day matters by e-mail and phone calls when needed to both department heads and the trustees. I never want the trustees to be caught off guard or hear from someone on the street about something that I could have communicated to them. As your supervisor, you will never be met with disrespect or a lack of interest. I will lead by example and expect that all township employees treat each and every one of our residents and guests with the courtesy they deserve.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
KIRKWOOD: I am not a career politician, but experienced and knowledgeable and ready to make a difference. I started off working as a clerk in the Treasurer’s Department in 1998, followed by Assessing and finally in the Water & Sewer Department. I ran for trustee in 2004 after I attended a board meeting with the intention to have my voice heard about an issue in the community at that time. When I was done expressing my concerns and thoughts I was met with neither the respect, nor the interest I had been anticipating by the incumbent township supervisor, as well as another board member. In fact, I was bluntly told that if I thought having a seat on the board was that easy, perhaps I “ought to run for office myself.” So I was motivated by the challenge, and indeed I felt I could do the job. I was elected to the township Board of Trustees in 2004 and re-elected to that position again in 2008.
Since being elected to the board, I feel like I have brought a new perspective as a former employee and have helped accomplish many tasks. Making sure budgets aren’t rubber stamped, being a part of negotiations with the township employees and their unions, helping complete the new zoning ordinance last year as the liaison to the Planning Commission, and most recently introducing the discussion to ban K2/Spice synthetic drugs.
I realize that it’s not everyday that the residents of a local community interact with the elected officials or employees. But when that time comes, whether to simply pull a permit, request information about tax assessments or to approach the board to address a concern, it should be an easy and efficient process. I also believe that local government officials should be in the know well before an issue breaks in the news.
As Commerce Township supervisor, I will honor an open door policy to our residents, whereby I commit to listening to their concerns and questions and to treat them with the utmost respect. I’ll take their issues and address them in a timely manner. Our residents deserve respectful, approachable elected officials with whom they feel comfortable expressing their viewpoints.
I’m ready to take the helm, and lead Commerce into renewed growth and prosperity.