Andrew Trzaska | July 28, 2012
With just under two weeks until August’s election day, the Muskegon branch of the NAACP’s candidate forum received strong attendance from candidates but light attendance from the public.
Twenty-three candidates across over a dozen offices attended the 9 a.m. event, including hotly contested county races for sheriff, prosecutor, treasurer, and multiple commission seats. About 50 members of the public were present.
The elections on August 7 are final for some contests, but even primaries can function as a de facto victory in some contests where party loyalties are strongly pocketed.
While most contests represented at the forum had multiple candidates present, the races that received the greatest candidate attendance and debate were 14th circuit judge, county clerk and the county commission seat for district 6. Sheriff and prosecutor contests each had a pair of candidates in attendance.
In the interest of time, candidate messages were kept to 90 seconds and responses to questions even shorter.
County commissioners Bob Scolnik and Scott Plummer, state representatives Holly Hughes, Marcia Hovey-Wright, Muskegon Township clerk Ann Oakes all were also present but received fewer questions due a lack of presence of opposition candidates. A stand-in advocate for Willie German’s 2nd Congresssional write-in campaign also appeared at Saturday’s forum.
Summaries of candidate statements and answers to questions are categorized below by contest:
District 6 County Commission
Joshua Eldenbrady – Cited fixing issues within justice system and making jail renovation or replacement more transparent: “The county commission both current and former has completely and utterly failed in its legal and ethical duty” to make sure all are adequately represented legally. On issue of public defender system: “Public defenders should not be assigned by judges. It should be independent.”
Anthony Longmire – Stated he needs more time to complete what he started: “Right now we still have a lot of issues we need to work on. Two years is not a lot of time to get done what we need to work on”. Cited labor union support, developing entrepreneurship and quality of life in the county, support of veterans’ court, sustainable energy.
Charles Nash – Cited previous presence on Muskegon’s school board, the county commission, and West Michigan Therapy as credentials. Primary focus of commission work would be increasing job training for county residents, development of agriculture around the wastewater plant and redevelopment of downtown Muskegon: “There’s a lot of economic growth that can develop from that, there’s a lot of jobs that can develop from that”.
Muskegon County Clerk
Jim Waters (standing in for Nancy Waters) – “In the past 3 and a half years she has vastly improved county services at less cost to taxpayers”.
Cindy Fairfield –Cited time as Muskegon Chronicle editor overseeing reduced staff as proof she will “disseminate information in a quick and accurate way” while making things more efficient and cost-effective. Proposes putting more services online for those who cannot make it to clerk’s office while reducing staff time.
Manda Mitteer – Cited work as a district court public defender in child protective services as experience. Plans to focus on customer service and put more court records online while also bringing back free circuit court records. “Muskegon County residents don’t have a lot of money and the county doesn’t have a lot of money.”
14th Circuit Court Judge
Joe Bush – Cited past presidency of the Nieghtborhood Investment Corporation and trustee role with Mission Area for People. “I believe in protecting the courts because that’s the last bastion for citizen rights.” Believes public defender system is “woefully underfunded.”
Michael Walsh – Spoke to “innovation”, such as drug courts and mental health courts. Stated that real change in the judicial system is partly on the public defender and prosecutor’s offices as well: “We need to take a smarter approach to crime… but judges can’t do that alone.” Stated that funding between prosecution and public defenders is “geared toward prosecution and it must change.”
Karen Groenhout – Cited 80% of private practice case load is drug related, and will institute “money-saving” drug court in the county. Stated that government keeps doing the same thing while expecting different results – letting drug offenders back on streets and expecting them to break free from the cycle of addiction. Proposes funding for prosecution and public defenders be split 50/50. Implied that drug-related cases are often “compelling” and would consider departing from Michigan sentencing guidelines. Stated that mental health and drug issues need to be attacked before the crime is committed.
David Wells – Cited 35 years of practicing law in Muskegon, the greatest of anyone running for circuit court judge. Cited 15 years as an arbitrator as well. Argued that his experience in areas including zoning, real estate, taxes and more makes him most qualified: “There’s a whole variety of cases out there. I think I have handled cases in the circuit court in every area imaginable”. Stated that public defenders need more money for investigation because prosecutors get law enforcement to assist their investigations. Said that departure from Michigan sentencing guidelines should be decided on case-by-case guidelines. Stated that judges don’t have much to do with level of crime, as they come after arrests are made.
Annette Smedley – Stated 10 years of law experience has been rich despite being less than other candidates. Cites mothership of 6 kids as dispute resolution credential, and proposes going into schools starting in elementary school to teach about legal system. Supports “alternative programs” to stop repeat offenders. Wants more money for public defenders: “(Public defenders) have to ask the courts for money; the prosecution does not. You’re going to get a lot of people saying they don’t deserve it, but they do.”
Randy Kostrzewa – Cited 20 years as assistant prosecutor as experienced. Stated that deep understanding of each case would lead to best decisions regarding departure from Michigan sentencing guidelines. Cited work with both prosecution and public defenders when discussing reform of the system, but does not give full sympathy to public defenders: “The public defenders are independent, they have a contract. They can take on other cases as well. Prosecution has to take cases in the public interest.” Regarding level of crime, stated that even judges can work through public interaction with youth to help prevent, not just react to crime.
DJ Hilson – “Positive opportunities to keep our kids in the classroom and off the streets.” Family support in these efforts. Cited endorsements including Black Women’s Political Caucus, Muskegon Board of Education president Rev. Louis Churchwell, county commissioner Rillastine Wilkins. Regarding public defenders: “I can not speak [for public defenders] on how much time they spend with their clients.” Contested claim that public defenders make less than prosecutor’s office, saying he does not make much. Supports specialty courts to reduce repeat crime.
Marc Curtis – Cited 10 years as assistant prosecutor and 5 years as military police officer. Argues that county has “gotten away from knowing who it represents in the past 25 years”. On repeat offenders: “It’s not time to start incarcerating our 17 and 18 year olds.” Regarding public defender reform: “The public defender has some great attorneys but they are overtaxed.” Need a system where they can make a profession out of public defender work, lawyers can. States that public awareness and pride comes first before education and specialty courts to help reduce crime. Does not want to see a bigger jail, but work on rehabilitation so those who need to serve full sentences aren’t let out early.
John Jurkas – Cited work in courts, in jails and road patrol triple experience. Cited his work as a union steward as experience as well.
Dean Roesler – Argued county sheriff operations have improved in his last four years in office. Cited his work on diverting mental health cases out of jail and into mental health hospitals as a trademark of his time as sheriff. Supports veterans courts, drug courts and sobriety courts. On new jail, stated that new jail needs more programming space to work with programs such as public re-entry.
Eric Rothoff – Proposed making prices for land bank properties be more visible. Spoke out on recent litigation between Muskegon Township and Muskegon County: “We should work more with the counties and cities instead of just suing them”. Advocates for more transparency with sale of foreclosed houses.
Tony Moulatsiotis – Cited 8 years as treasurer and work on land bank as reasons for reelection. On Rothoff’s litigation comments: “What my opponent just spoke of had to do with the law and it was nothing personal.”