|Judith Cooper has been the deputy treasurer in Highland Township since 2001. Prior to that, she served 8 years as deputy treasurer in White Lake Township and 8 years as an assistant manager at the Highland office of Bank One/Pontiac State Bank. A graduate of Hope College, she is a Michigan Certified Professional Treasurer and a Certified Public Treasurer, with both certifications coming in conjunction with Central Michigan University.|
|Tami Flowers is the former administrator of the Highland-White Lake Business Association, a position she assumed in 2003. A graduate of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., she was an accounting analyst with Emro Propane Co., a division of Marathon Oil in Flint, for 3 years. She currently manages the customer billing system and social media marketing for Digital Document Store in Milford.|
Judith Cooper and Tami Flowers are competing in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 Republican primary election for Highland Township treasurer. Since there are no Democrats running, the winner of the primary election will serve a four-year term that currently pays $62,902 annually.
The following are questions we posed to Cooper and Flowers, and their responses to those questions.
TREASURER’S ROLE: What do you see as the primary responsibilities of a township treasurer? What specific changes, if any, are needed in the way the treasurer conducts business? What are your qualifications for this position?
COOPER: The primary responsibilities are taking in all the receivables for the township, as well as property tax collections and disbursing those in a timely manner by statute to the units that you are collecting for. The other thing that we do is invest all the monies of the township according to Public Act 20. We do have an investment policy that we follow and all of our investment companies find that they will comply with that.
I’m the deputy (treasurer) right now, so actually, if anything, we need to continue moving forward technologically. Other than that, we just play the game by the rules and do it right. We take care of people when they come in and explain things in a manner they can understand without being intimidating or talking down to them. So we just think customer service is really important and making sure people understand what they’re paying and why.
I’m a certified public treasurer at both the state and the national level. I’ve been deputy treasurer at Highland for 10 years. I was deputy (treasurer) at White Lake for 8 years before that. I was also an assistant manager at Pontiac State Bank in Highland for 8 years before that. So I have banking experience as well as governmental experience.
FLOWERS: I agree with Judy that it has to do with taking in the monies they are taking in and putting the monies out that need to go out and handling the investments. Then I would also add to that voting on the township board concerning all the issues that relate to the township, and (providing) customer service (and) dealing with the public.
I don’t see any changes that are necessary. Like Judy said, we just need to continue moving forward. Every year brings new technological advances, and we need to see what we can use to improve efficiency and responsiveness to the public.
I’ve been working in Highland as the administrator of the Highland-White Lake Business Association for 8 years, interacting with the local government, the local non-profit organizations, the local businesses, and I feel like I have a good connection with the community.
I am aware of all the issues that we need to know about in order to move our community forward. Before that, I worked in the accounting field at various companies and some non-profit groups. One of the companies I worked several years for was a propane company that was a subsidiary of Marathon Propane or Marathon Oil, working in their accounting department dealing with the banking for the various branches.
INVESTMENTS: What investment instruments are at the disposal of municipal treasurers? Which available investment instruments would you prefer to utilize as treasurer and which would you try to avoid? How would you describe your investment philosophy for public funds?
FLOWERS: They’re regulated by law, and that’s all I know. Obviously you’re going to go with the safest (investment) that gives you the best return over the long-term. My philosophy is that you should use (financial) instruments that are as safe as possible with low risk and with the best possible return.
COOPER: Some of them include t-bills, CDs, regular savings accounts, municipal pools. They’re definitely regulated by statute in our investment policy.
Right now we basically have most of the township money invested in investment pools and (some) in CDs because the returns just aren’t there. It’s just such a strange market with such low rates (that) we don’t want to put anything out for any length of time. Plus, there’s not that much money available. I mean, the budget is short. So we’re keeping them in short time frame (investments) and in something that is safe and most of the time liquid.
(My philosophy is) safety, first of course. I pretty much agree with Tami. Safety first and maximizing the return.
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?
COOPER: The Highland Township board has done a wonderful job of budgeting, and it has been a very challenging and strange market. They’ve had to make a lot of cuts. Every year there are more cuts. We’re to the point that I don’t know how much more that we can cut. As far as changes, I think that we want to stay with the same practices — projecting out 3 to 5 years because we have some idea what the projections are and what’s coming just so we are prepared so that we can look at maintenance in the building and maintenance of the parks and things that we are responsible for, just kind of proactively look at what kinds of maintenance needs we have.
The way I’d have to look at (where the budget can be trimmed back) is just go through line by line and see.
(The) basic need in most governments I think is public safety. So as far as fire and police, we really need to keep that as constant as we can. That’s kind of our whole purpose for being there. Other than that, you just have to look at it line by line. The first priority is how well we are serving the citizens. That’s what we’re there for.
FLOWERS: I agree that the township has followed a very good process. They have done a great job of keeping the budget balanced in some really tough times. I agree that they have cut so far that it’s basically a bare bones situation now, and any further cuts will be very painful and the community will feel them in terms of lost services.
As I see it, pretty much the only thing you have left to trim as it reflects to employees would be numbers of employees and hours paid, rates of pay and fringe benefits, which like I said would be felt by the community in terms of the service they’re going to get from the township.
Public safety should be protected as much as possible. You can only work with what you have, but that’s a high priority.
DEVELOPMENT: Some in the community are striving to preserve the township’s rural character while others are yearning for more business development in Highland. Is there a way that Highland can maintain its rural ethos while attracting new business and development? If so, how? If not, why not?
FLOWERS: I think it’s possible to balance those two desires, primarily by not going after “big box” development. We have a lot of vacant commercial space that would be perfect for small business, locally owned, and I think I’d like to see those rebuilt first and then once that happens we can look at bigger developments.
I really shy away from the big box (developments) because to me that just pulls the money out of the community. I would work closely with the Highland Equestrian Conservancy and the Highland Conservancy to plan these new developments in ways that will maintain green space and youthfulness to the community.
COOPER: I agree that there is a balance (to be had) out there. Right now (in) a mile in our downtown area I heard there are 50 empty businesses. I think we really do have to work very hard to attract some kind of small business, like local ownership, just like Tami said, to that area.
There are ways to encourage those businesses to come in (such as) partnering with the DDA and using free consulting services like BAT, which (stands for) Business Assist Team through Oakland County. They can have subsidized advertising through the DDA and their grant programs are all available tools. So the DDA is trying to promote different things to bring businesses in and not only to the DDA district, they’re trying to pull in from the other side of Highland, as well.
PUBLIC SAFETY: Highland voters are being asked to authorize a two-year, 0.75-mill increase in local property taxes to continue providing for police services in the township, with the increased revenue generated in the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) District being disbursed to the DDA. Please explain why you do or don’t support the ballot question.
COOPER: I support it because it’s what we’re there for — to provide public safety. We’ve lost five officers since 2009. We’ve lost a detective, lieutenant, and three officers. This millage will bring back one officer on the road that will work the swing shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. That’s the busiest time for the police. I can’t imagine how one detective is functioning in Highland. It’s got to be insane. So yes, I definitely support it.
FLOWERS: I do support the police millage question. I just think that it’s important to maintain our property values to have an area that’s not overrun by crime.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
FLOWERS: I would say declining revenues and how you continue to balance the budget in face of that. My goal would be to improve property values by reintegrating our business district. That would increase our tax income and also help with the property values in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The second issue is the loss of businesses. Basically we need to improve how the township interacts with businesses. We need better communication. We need a change of attitude, let’s say — a way of interacting, to appreciate what our businesses bring to us in terms of tax revenue and our community life. We just need to explore ways to improve our processes and simplify things and make them easier for people who are busy running their businesses to be able to accomplish what they need to.
And then the third issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that our community is disconnected. People aren’t really plugged into local happenings or issues. People don’t always pay attention to what’s going on with their government and things that need to be voted on.
There’s a lot of great things happening in terms of non-profit organizations that people aren’t aware of or aren’t plugging into. I would really like to improve our communication with our residents and try to bring our community closer together. Get them supporting some of the great things that are happening and make improvements on what’s going on.
COOPER: The first issue that I think is really important is continuity in the township offices as well as on the board. By the end of the year, the township hall will lose approximately 30 percent of its employees to retirement with over 100 years of experience. So I think I would provide part of that continuity. If I wasn’t elected, our entire office would be gone, as well as the supervisor. It’s huge to take that big of a chunk out of the office itself. And they are losing a minimum of three out of seven (members) of the township board. With my experience doing backup research for different board issues as well as my volunteer experience on different boards in the community and at my church, I think that I bring valuable continuity.
The second issue is the passage of the police millage to provide basic public safety to our residents.
And the last (issue) is to remain fiscally conservative so that we can keep Highland afloat. Every day you hear about different communities going under, and we just don’t want to see that in Highland.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
COOPER: I have experience in government as well as banking and investing. I have the credentials. I have the experience. I just have a lot of common sense. I will do the research of the issues and just make common sense decisions that make the most sense. If I don’t know what I think I should do, I will go out and ask people what’s right for (them) in the community. And sometimes that’s really important to make sure you have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the community and what people are thinking.
FLOWERS: I’d like to bring a fresh, balanced approach to things at the township. Coming from a business and a non-profit background, I have a lot of experience in working with people, boards, and committees through my previous work at the (Highland-White Lake) Business Association working to bring a group of people to consensus and keep moving forward and not getting stalled by conflict and things like that.
I want to work to foster a connected, cooperative community with residents and businesses working together to make our life better in our township.
Just to sort of address the issue of continuity, I think our township is ready for some new approaches to things. Some things have been handled well regarding the budget and things like that, but I feel like we really need a new direction in terms of how we interact with businesses and things like that to take a step forward in that area.
Regardless of which one of us is elected, there is going to be a new person in the Treasurer’s Office, whether it’s in the treasurer position or in the deputy position. I’ve been around the community long enough to have a good connection with what’s going on and can continue the township’s good relationships with the businesses and the residents.