Here are my picks for the contested races in Barry County in the Tuesday, August 5, 2008 primary...
Barry County Board of Commissioners
Note: District 1 (the city of Hastings) and District 5 (Maple Grove, Castleton and Assyria Townships) have no challengers so the board will retain incumbents Don Nevins and Mike Callton. With two retirements and one commissioner seeking the Drain Commissioner post we know the board will see some turnover even without any incumbents going down. Surprisingly, given that in the last few years we've had some hot button issues on the county level including the Charlton Park millages, the County 9-1-1 charges and counter-suits and the TOST ordinance, most of these races have been low key, almost dull. Compared to the county-wide races, I don't see a similar level of spending or discussion of key issues. Outside of the open seats, it's looks like a good year to be an incumbent.
District 2 (Thornapple and part of Irving Township)- The retirement of James French has paved the way for a field of four challengers. This is a tough choice but I'd have to go with Mike Bremer. His long history of service and involvement with youth recreation make him a good choice. There's no doubt in my mind he's ready to do the job and will represent his constituents well.
District 3 (Hope and Rutland Twp.)- Joe Lyons is challenging incumbent Keith Ferris. I like Ferris' willingness to speak his mind and take tough stands. He's not afraid to lead. In fact, if Ferris wanted the job he could probably be chair- I have no doubt he'd be a solid one. Lyons hasn't given me much of a reason to dump Ferris who's been a very able commissioner and should get another term on the board. I give Lyons credit for running an honorable campaign, and maybe he thinks that enough people know him and will support him but I'd have liked to seen a little more as far as want he wants to do if elected, or even a reason why he's running.
District 4 (Carlton, part of Hastings Charter and Irving Townships)- Incumbent "Hoot" Gibson looked like a promising newcomer four years ago. Sadly, for four years Gibson has gone with the flow, told people what they wanted to hear and generally just soaked up taxpayer money to pay his salary and many per diems while ignoring his many promises from the previous campaign. Denise Straley hasn't run a great campaign but she represents a chance to ditch dead weight and make a politician pay for not fulfilling the promises of their campign rhetoric. Straley also earns high marks for being vocal in supporting the Drug Court.
District 6- (Yankee Springs and part of Orangeville Township)- Commissioner Mark Englerth is stepping aside to run for County Drain Commissioner. Four years ago Englerth ran a tireless campaign to take out incumbent Claire Tripp. Tripp is trying to get her odd job back and needs to be Craig Stolsenberg to do so. Stolsenberg is supported by Englerth who hopefully showed him what it took to defeat Tripp. Englerth doesn't always play well with others and had his trouble being one of 8 commissioners. Meanwhile, Tripp was always a reliable member of the "insiders" who represents the same old politics voters have rejected in the past. The voters of Yankee Springs and Orangeville need to keep Tripp off the board and pick Stolsenberg.
District 7 (Assyria, Baltimore, and Johnstown Townships)- Voters chose wisely four years when they picked Jeff VanNortwick over incumbent Tom Wing. Voters chose wisely again when Wing's supporters tried to single out VanNortwick and attempted to have him recalled for his support of the TOST ordinance. Mike Boles is simply yet another attempt by the same small group to enact political revenge. Voters should once again make the right choice and re-elect VanNortwick.
District 8 (Prairieville, Barry and part of Orangeville Township)- Wayne Adams is retiring and three seek his spot on the board. One, Mark Robinson, already dropped out for "personal" reasons. Issues have surfaced with candidate Robert Houtman who once got into hot water while working in Kalamazoo. The issue resurfaced too close to election time for a full airing of what happened, but it has left many wanting to avoid it coming up after the election is already over and distracting the board from dealing with new issues. Many people I've talked to are reluctantly supporting Jim Alden due to what they see at Houtman's "baggage."
This race is a good example of why I think the debate formula is flawed as it lumped all 8 county board races into one debate and didn't allow for any great back and forth between candidates in individual races or debate of issues specific to any particular race. Next time I hope we can see debates actually take place in the districts for those seats which should spur greater attendance and a more in-depth discussion of the local issues affecting each race.
Barry County Clerk - Incumbent Clerk Debbie Smith is under fire for the recent embezzlement of funds that took place within her office. Two of her employees were stealing money and her office procedures didn't catch the crime. I've never been a fan of Smith and as far as I'm concerned this is the last straw. However, with two challengers in the race we should see the vote split amongst those who agree that Smith's time as clerk should be over. Mark Whitney has ran a good campaign, spent lots of money and seems like a nice man. Whitney, however, is just simply not qualified to do the job and his campaign literature almost admits as much. Whitney might be an acceptable choice when compared to Smith, but voters have a much better choice in Pam Jarvis. Jarvis is experience, professional and fully capable of taking over the job on her first day in the office. Voters should choose Pam Jarvis to be our next County Clerk.
Barry County Drain Commissioner - For some reason the field is crowded with 7 candidates. Perhaps it's the economy. Perhaps it's that for the first time in a long time a Barry County official stepped aside with first appointing a successor. First, let's admit that Kevin Allerding has spent lots of money and campaigned hard but shows absolutely zero qualifications for the job. Jan Kelly seems to be popular in the Nashville area but given that his campaign has mostly consisted of people trumpeting his support from Right to Life (which might have something to due with his church affiliation I'm told), but unless the Drain Commissioners' job is to protect fetuses I'm not sure that means anything. Mark Doster might be qualified but pretty much admitted he's simply a kamikaze candidate aimed at taking down Mark Englerth. Englerth has spent tons of money in his campaign, maybe that money would have been put to better use paying his overdue tax bills. Englerth seems to feel inconvenienced that people, okay Doster, have brought up his delinquent taxes but this was also an issue four years ago and the problem seem to be getting worse. Even more, he's not even the most qualified person in the race. Dennis McKelvey seems very qualified but I haven't noticed any real campaign from him. In the Republican field, Russ Yarger seems to be the best choice if you are looking for experience and knowledge of the position and also looking for someone who can win. Yarger has ran a campaign to win and also has the backing of the current Drain Commissioner, Tom Doyle. In a crowded field there's a real chance someone unqualified could slip through, let's hope voters make solid choice. I think the best shot for voters looking for competence is Russ Yarger in the Republican primary.
You might be thinking I forgot Rosemary Anger. Anger chose to run as a Democrat, perhaps a wise choice given how crowded the GOP primary is and how much the candidates were wiling to spend. Anger is supremely qualified, smart and it would be nice to see a Democrat in a county-wide office for the first time in decades it seems. If one of the lesser candidates gets past voters on the Republican ticket, Anger could be the last chance in November. I'd like to the see the losing GOP candidates back Anger and help her raise money if it means stopping someone who can't do or doesn't deserve the job.
Barry County Prosecutor - Current prosecutor Tom Evans is a very nice guy. He's dedicated to the community and is involved in local causes. His wife is a very personable and friendly woman who has likely helped Evans get where he is. However, I just don't think Evans is a good prosecutor. I said as much four years ago when I decided Julie Nakfoor-Pratt was the choice for voters. However, some saw Pratt as protecting the insider's club and voters gave her the boot. I felt Evans wasn't able to make his case in the campaign and probably wouldn't do much better in court. I think I was proven right, though I'm not gloating about it. Evans went public with sensational charges against 9-1-1 Director Nystrom but seemingly couldn't back them up. Nystrom got a nice retirement gift from taxpayers and even gave back... a suit charging the prosecutor, the sheriff and the local newspaper publisher with a conspiracy to destroy his career. Frankly, Evans seems to me the one that blew it most, going in front of the media with accusations he didn't even seem to know the definition, much less that he could prove. A prosecutor shouldn't go with charges he can't make stick and he sure as hell shouldn't try cases in the media (something which got a former prosecutor in hot water, part of the reason he stepped down and Pratt took over). I don't feel like I'm entirely sold on challenger Kerri Selleck, but given Evans' rather weak record I think voters should give Selleck a chance to prove what she can do.
Barry County Sheriff - It took me a while to decide on this one. On the one hand I feel like Jerry Sarver is often too opposed to making information public, a problem that lead to some of the issues surrounding Barry County 9-1-1. On the other hand, incumbent Sheriff Dar Leaf is simply too cozy with the radical elements that use his support to further their fringe causes. Leaf has also not been a strong enough manager at the local animal shelter and we've seen a recent tragedy involving the deaths of many animals because of a refusal to allow volunteers to work in the shelter due to the presence of jail inmates and an absence of any leadership that would be able to continue the inmate work program and also allow volunteer workers. After the recent political stunt where advocates of limitless gun rights brandished their arms in downtown Hastings, making a circus in order to try to humiliate the Chief of Police in the waning days of a political campaign, I've come to the conclusion that Jerry Sarver should be the next Sheriff of Barry County. Sarver's three degrees (including a Master's in Public Administration) place him head and shoulders above Leaf as far as qualifications, and the fact that he didn't take the bait during the recent Pistol Parade through the downtown streets of Hastings (which, obviously was done with the blessing of Leaf since people heavily involved in his campaign were leading the charge) means he has the temperament to keep his cool when the heat is on.