Concerns vary in crowded St. Clair County District 1 primary

With no incumbent seeking office in the westernmost district of St. Clair County Council, voters on either side of the aisle have a choice to make in the primary election of this summer.

Two candidates are seeking both the Democratic and Republican nominations, and their priorities are as varied as the race is crowded on August 2.

In the running for the Republican sign, newcomer Carolyn Richards, a medical assistant who has frequented public commentary amid controversies over the county’s COVID-related mandate, faces attorney Steve Simasko, a former county prosecutor who previously served as curator from 2008 to 2015.

Meanwhile, Fred Fuller, a former sewer commissioner, is running in the Democratic lane against Clyde Township resident Tina Ritter, who previously held the elected office of Kimball Township.

The winner will replace outgoing commissioner Greg McConnell in District 1 in November, which includes the city of Yale, the villages of Capac and Emmett, and the townships of Brockway, Clyde, Emmett, Grant, Greenwood, Kenockee, Lynn and Mussey.

Fred Fuller.

Fuller: County Council ‘needs different viewpoints’

In addition to a stint as mayor of Yale, Fred Fuller served as the county’s sewer commissioner from the late 1990s until 2008 before unsuccessfully running for the job two years ago.

He has continued to put goals related to environmental issues at the forefront of his priorities, but he said last week that he believes his experience has helped him understand county departments and its struggles with budgets.

But he added there was much more at the county level that he saw as major concerns.

“I was also very disappointed with the county council who did next to nothing to try to save Silver Trails as a scout camp,” Fuller said. “I think there are possibilities there, and I would like to do something with that. We need a park in District 1. People here have been asking for a park for a long time. It could be an opportunity. »

He also recalled the two public health orders – related to quarantine and temporary school mask requirements. The orders were issued late last year by county health department chief health officer Dr Annette Mercatante, and what he believed was a mishandled response from the commissioners. which ultimately led to his departure. He feared replacing her in a role in the future.

Fuller admitted he was not as familiar with the county’s other ongoing priorities, such as the 26 Mile Road corridor plan, although he said commissioners had done a “really good job” on longer-term efforts to ensure “there is reasonable development” in the pipeline.

“I’ve always been able to work in a non-partisan way and build consensus,” he said. “I would like to do this to the Board of County Commissioners.”

Caroline Richards

Richards: make sure all opinions are heard

During a few meetings earlier this year, the public worried about the school mask mandate – ordered at the end of December and completed as it was published in January – which dominated hours-long public comment sections during the meetings. of the county council.

Richards is among just a few of those speakers whose involvement prompted the candidacy this summer and what she described as an expanded range of interests campaigning since she filed.

“People are just fed up with the excesses of the government. I think that’s the current problem overall, and once that changes, hopefully it will change some of the local issues,” she said. “…With voters, it may seem trivial and minor to some people, but as the roads can be dusty or full of potholes. Road conditions, they want to make sure the ditches are well drained. This stuff is important.

Richards maintained his primary concern with individual rights.

Richards also wanted to see transparency in county finances and approval of county contracts, adding, “I don’t know as a citizen like where my tax money goes? I feel like people need to know.

“It’s going to take learning and diving into some of the county priorities. I (am aware of) the 26 Mile Road project,” Richards said, referring to the ongoing study of future infrastructure needs to incentivize development along the 11-mile corridor.

“But there have definitely been pros and cons and different mindsets about it,” she said. “Everyone’s opinion matters. … Same thing with wind turbines and solar panels. Like all of this, it is our region, our community.

Tina Ritter previously held elected office in Kimball Township.  Now she is running for County Commissioner in District 1.

Ritter: Look beyond party lines, slow spending

Ritter previously served as a director on the board of Kimball Township. Earlier this year, she said she was partly inspired to run for commissioner by the county council’s handling of Mercatante’s post.

Since then, she said the overall political climate has been a little daunting — it’s also a big election year for state governor — and that’s her leaning on her mouth. by ear in a strongly republican region.

Unlike some Democrats, Ritter said she wants to consider spending limits, citing the “many miles” weighing on taxpayers, including the EMS and summer library tax proposals, among other local taxes. .

“It’s a big topic for people,” she said, as it was “starting to get into the luxury categories.” She also pointed to less tax breaks for business or development, adding: ‘I understand they are creating jobs, but there’s not a lot of housing for low-income people.’

“Just stop cultivating the parks and stuff – I’m sorry,” said Ritter, an in-home caregiver with Visiting Angels. “I’m in parks, but I look after elderly and disabled people (residents who) don’t see parks or libraries much, and they pay for it. To slow down.”

Ritter recalled coming across discussions about the county landfill in Kimball and said she wanted to know more about it and other county assets, such as the airport, if elected. . Whatever the issue, however, she saw little need for partisanship at the county council level.

“I would love to get us all together and work as a team,” she said.

Steve Simasko.

Simasko: Preserving the county’s basic services, first

Simasko worked in the county attorney’s office for 18 years and he resigned his last term as commissioner in 2015 when service meant he would lose part of his county pension. The minimum two years that would allow a county retiree to return to service have since passed.

He referenced his previous terms as commissioner and, like a few incumbents, he said the fallout from the Great Recession of 2008 — where property income devaluation deflated county revenues for several years — served as a basis for the challenges he would expect to face as Commissioner if re-elected.

“We were basically trying to manage the budget in a way that preserved what I call basic services,” Simasko said. “We’ve made a lot of budget cuts, a lot of adjustments, a lot of scrutiny where we’re going to spend the money, the county money, sensibly. So I think we’re heading in that direction again.

Simasko had opposed the county’s investment in the multimillion-dollar construction of the Blue Water Convention Center, questioning the timing of subsidized spending to support its operational growth.

Going forward, he said the council must continue to prioritize these ‘basic services’ – be it policing, fire protection, road and drainage issues, public health and safe schools – before large-scale efforts if necessary.

Still, Simasko has not expressed disinterest in the broader role the county has played in facilitating developments that create jobs, like the Magna Electric Vehicle Structures plant in St. Clair.

“I have a son-in-law who works at Magna. He has a good job,” he said. “…And I’m so grateful that this work is here in St. Clair County. And it was because of this push for economic development and sponsorship of these types of businesses that are coming up. So there is a place for that.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

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