Democrat Doug Bourgeois and Republican Rick Hamill will face off in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election for the Highland Township supervisor position. The township supervisor serves a four-year term and is currently paid $65,691 annually.
The following are questions recently posed to the candidates, and their responses to those questions.
LEADERSHIP: The supervisor is the township’s chief executive officer, responsible for oversight of most township departments. Please describe your leadership style and priorities.
BUDGET: Highland, like all Michigan communities, is required by law to have a balanced budget — something that’s become increasingly difficult for all municipalities to achieve due to languishing revenue streams. After many years of budget cuts and changes, what additional cutbacks can be made if necessary? What, if anything, should the township do to bolster revenues?
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The people in the community believe the township should do more to attract new businesses and foster those already operating in Highland. If you believe that should be a top priority, tell us how, specifically, you would achieve that. If you don’t see it as a priority, explain why.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township at this time, and how do you propose to address them?
WHY YOU? Why, specifically, should voters select you over your opponent?
LEADERSHIP: I’ve been in business for a long time, and I’ve owned my own business. I think I would be considered someone who tries to get good people around him and give them a direction and let them go with it. I check on them every once in a while to make sure it’s going in that direction.
I think you need to have a good working relationship with your personnel, obviously. You also need to be out there in the community finding out what they want and what their needs are. That’s a high priority.
BUDGET: I work at the township and I know they have cut it right down to the bone. Anything cut from now on would be extremely detrimental to the community and to the workers. I don’t see that as a positive thing.
There’s a couple of ways we do have to improve our revenue stream. We need to bring positive businesses, positive ideas for businesses into the community. Probably the infrastructure is one of the best ways we can do that. The downtown area needs to definitely get some kind of a sewer system in there, something that would allow us to bring in other businesses such as restaurants and places where people can gather. If we do want to develop our downtown area, which is a logical place because we have most of the infrastructure there already, there are lots of good grants, lots of great ways to get funding for all of that, and I would go after those revenue streams.
I would put a positive image out there of Highland, like Milford does with their Milford Memories. They bring a lot of people in, and we need to find ways to work with the community to build different revenue-generating events. I would love to see a flea market or a farmers market. We’ve got M-59, which is a great corridor. We could really work on that and bring some notoriety to Highland, and in that respect bring people and businesses into Highland. That’s how we are going to generate money.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: I do subscribe to that idea, although I have talked with numerous people that believe Highland should stay a turn-of-the-century kind of bedroom community, where you have no development whatsoever. They seem to be quite the minority. Most people realize that we have business corridors that are already developed with infrastructure, and they just need to be nurtured. The township is a service industry. It really is. They are running the township, but they are running it for the people, so they need to be service-oriented. They need to remember that. We need to remember that. The community needs support from the businesses, and the businesses need support from the township. And I think that’s the way we need to take it.
TOP ISSUES: The declining revenue is important. That’s a very important issue and I think we already discussed that we would like to increase the revenue — not decrease spending, but increase revenue through inventive ideas and through marketing, basically, by promoting our businesses. Hopefully, that would help, and promoting people wanting to move into Highland because it’s a great place and that would help improve our home values, which again increases (tax revenue).
No. 2, the way we get there isn’t going to happen without development of sewers within the downtown area, and then maybe into the lakes areas, too. I know Oakland County itself would like to see most of the area around the lakes in some sort of sewer system. It’s very expensive and I don’t know if we should be putting that on our residents right now.
Third, we need to promote Highland a little more as a positive place to live. That will come from being positive in the supervisor’s office, and making sure that your employees are positive. We have great employees there. We have a great sheriff’s department deputies and a great fire department. We’ve got the basics, we just need to make sure we understand that it’s service-orientated.
WHY YOU? Rick and I have known each other a very long time. We are both very active. I’ve been active in the fire department for 16 years. I’ve been the fire marshal. I have a very active career in dealing with businesses. I go to 330 businesses every year. I talk to them. We figure out what is going on in the business community. That’s part of being the fire marshal, so I really have a good idea of what is going on in that area.
I’ve owned my own business for 24 years, so I do know how to run a business. I understand advertising, and I understand marketing. I also worked for (the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency), so I have ideas on how the government needs to work in relation with other entities, outside entities being smaller or bigger.
I feel that the township supervisor is not only a spot where you are a business administrator, but you have to be out there interacting with the people of the community. I’ve been a karate instructor for 20-some odd years now, and I deal with parents, deal with kids, and I constantly deal with people on a day-to-day basis. I’ve hosted numerous national tournaments and brought in thousands of people for that, so I understand events. Between the fire department and living in Highland since 1989, I’ve been involved. I’m on the (Downtown Development Authority) board, so I’m pretty in touch with what is going on in the community. I feel that Rick would be a great supervisor. I think that I would be a better supervisor. Either way, I feel the people of Highland have a win-win here.
LEADERSHIP: My leadership style, I guess if I were to define it, is somewhat on the visionary end of things. I like to give people the opportunity to express themselves and employees put forth ideas and reward them with the types of kudos they need to continue their job and perform at the highest level. I believe you need to work as a team, because you are voted in there and there is basically a team of seven that oversee projects and prospects for the township. I’m a compromiser. I’m a person who believes we do need to compromise when decisions are tough and important. We need to get to a compromise and not turn it into a dictatorship.
Our community has some issues with some of the ordinances, and businesses have some issues. I know Doug feels the same way about this. We need to get down to figuring out how we are going to deal with businesses in a more positive format. That’s going to be through my vision. Being the personnel director, I’m going to work with the personnel, which means anybody that gets paid by the township needs to get a better attitude toward the population, which is our paying constituents. We need to have some kind of a marketing program that will put us out there in the public in a positive light.
BUDGET: Highland Township has basically whittled their budget to the bone. I mean, you could go in and cut the half-timers down to quarter time, which I believe is the complete wrong direction to go. My basic comment is, I don’t see any budget cuts. What I see is revenue generation. That needs to happen through an aggressive program of going after grants and outside monies. That’s something that can be done by working with the arts community or business community, where you can get projects that you partner on, so your resource value may not be in dollars, but it’s a reward in property value growth.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: I think economic development is an absolute priority. It’s one of the main reasons I got involved in running for this office. What needs to happen is that you have to have three partners that the community is based on. It’s a government body that is one leg of the tripod, the people, and you’ve got the businesses. If you have all three of them working together, you’ll have a stable economic environment.
You’ve got some awesome business people in our community, but they regularly have the thumb put down on them by our township government, which for some reason seems to think it needs to be able to control the ability of businesses to profit. That’s through what I feel are inordinately heavy-duty sign ordinances that make marketing an impossibility. I came from the landscape industry and I can’t for the life of me understand why you would want to plant trees in front of everything so that you can’t see it. I love the idea of having canopies, but we need to expose our businesses so they can profit and grow.
We need to shorten the term it takes to get a business started, and that needs to happen through the local planning department. We need to get our government team realizing that every individual coming into the community is a customer, and we need to treat them as No. 1. So, the way to really go about that development is that the township needs to take a proactive role in helping businesses develop profitable centers. We have a Downtown Development Authority, which has the ability to be able to spend its tax dollars toward business and economic development. To this date, for at least the past 10 years, there’s been no support to the DDA from the township. I believe that the township board needs to support the DDA 150 percent. They need to bring it together so it works together as one positive body.
We also need to do things like find a local piece of property that would be a good site for sewers in order to develop that downtown district. We have to have some way to get rid of some septic waste. There happens to be some property within the vicinity of the downtown that could probably make some pretty good septic fields. The township has to be the catalyst to push it along.
The township government can use its own internal resources, which are employees and volunteers, to help develop community-style activities that promote the growth of business. For instance, there are festivals, like Milford — they have their park on the river there that gets big gatherings. We don’t have a central one, but there is property there that is available going forward to do that.
TOP ISSUES: Highland Township itself has had property value declines, but the first thing that needs to be addressed is how the township organization itself deals with the business population and deals with the customers. So, the very first, most important thing to do as the supervisor, is to go into the township working structure, put together programs that help all of the employees’ jobs be easier in terms of dealing with the public. Our public persona needs to be polished. We need to work on that. I think what’s happened over the years, the employees have been allowed to pretty much handle people that works easiest for them. There has been no manual or program that gives them directives on how to deal with a business partner or community partner when they come in asking for goods or services or permits. We need to really spend time right out of the gate, coming up with a personnel program plan that helps market the community right from the get-go. When you go into the offices, people should notice right away that there is a change in attitude, a change in the help level, a change in the products that go out the door, to help business owners and individuals accomplish their projects without multiple trips. We can improve the process for permitting, which is also processed through the planning and personnel program. That’s the key thing, getting the government organization fine tuned so that it works more like a clock instead of just a bunch of individuals with their own ideas on how to handle the public.
The second thing would be garnering community involvement. When someone asks me or anybody in Highland, “Where do you live?” when you say, “Highland,” they say, “Where is that?” and you say, “North of Milford.” We need to get that identity. That’s through community involvement. That means things need to happen in our community that keeps our members in our town. Highland needs to do some marketing and some development of programs that are for the people to enjoy. The tax dollars that they put in will have added value to them by giving them opportunities through planning and programs, like festivals, where everybody that comes to it profits in some form or another. The business partners that would be part of a festival would profit from there, the township would profit from us marketing and the people coming into the community that normally wouldn’t be there.
The third thing is truly generating revenue. We’ve had opportunity to invest in our community through our government in multiple ways, and I’ve seen that investment sit stale because of fear of overdependence on conservatism. I think we need to not necessarily be not conservative, but be aggressive in looking at ways of generating new revenue. The township shouldn’t depend on the taxpayers dollars to do the additional things that we’ve been talking about all along, and that is other activities.
WHY YOU? That’s a tough call. I say that because I’ve gotten to know Doug over a few years. Both of us are actively involved in the DDA, the Downtown Development Authority. We have a lot of common ideas, and I know this sounds like a sales job for Doug, but I think it’s a win-win situation if either one of us get in, but it’s more of a win if I get in because I’ve been involved in community design for 30-plus years. I’ve been a local business owner for 30-plus years. I’ve lived in the community for 48 years. I know everybody personally who is in the town hall right now, it’s not like I have to get up and introduce myself to everybody. I’ve been actively involved in all of the aspects of what the government does. I’m a licensed builder. I was a landscape contractor. I deal with contracts and all of the elements that are involved in the township job. In order to make your business survive, you have to be a marketing person. Every job I ever did was a contract. You start with a design, you come up with a plan, you sell the plan, and you go forward. I think those skill sets are something I’ve garnered over the years that I think put me a little bit above Doug, but Doug is a great guy.
Doug Bourgeois has been a Highland Township firefighter for the past 16 years, and is currently the township Fire Department’s fire marshal. He has been the owner and operator of a martial arts business for the past 25 years.
Rick Hamill is the owner of Paradise Designs, a custom landscaping and home design/build firm, as well as Vintage Travel Trailer Restoration Co. He is the current facilities manager for the Highland Township Public Library and serves as the Design Committee chairman for the Highland Downtown Development Authority. He is a graduate of Oakland University and Western Michigan University.