The 2012 general election presents Michigan voters with an outstanding opportunity to inquire about the overall level of preparedness and qualification of candidates running for local government offices. The significance of this discussion is highlighted by the fact that very few local governments in Michigan have effectively exercised their state legislature granted authority to contribute to the preservation and protection of our inland lakes and streams. You and your neighbors are uniquely empowered to affect the outcome of local elections and the future of your favorite lake or stream! Michigan Lake and Stream Associations recommends that you do a little homework in order to determine the knowledge level and overall qualifications of those seeking election in your township or municipality.

Your local unit of government should be pro-actively engaged in land‐use and water resources associated planning and zoning. Under Michigan law, local governments possess the legal authority to regulate development and to pursue natural resources protection and preservation within their respective jurisdictions. However, Michigan Townships Association indicates that of the approximately 15,000 citizens presently serving Michigan local governments in an official and/or elected capacity, less than 40% have received any level of formal land use or natural resources management planning and zoning education or training. A deficiency of planning and zoning knowledge at the local government level has resulted in the fact that relatively few local governments in Michigan have created master plans and/or enacted zoning ordinances designed to protect or preserve local natural resources including inland lakes and their associated resources.

Before you decide which local government candidates are worthy of the support of you and your neighbors, we ask that you do a little research regarding their overall qualifications to effectively perform the official duties associated with the specific office they are seeking.  In our opinion, candidates for local government office who have not completed an officially recognized planning and zoning education and training program should be deemed unqualified and ineligible for your support.

Relatively inexpensive and readily available planning and zoning training programs such as the Michigan State University Citizen Planner and comparable programs offered by the Michigan Association of Planning or the Michigan Townships Associations, have been offered at statewide venues for many years.  We question the commitment of candidates and incumbents alike that have not devoted the time and effort necessary to become knowledgeable about the increasingly complex public position they hold or seek! The economic, ecological, recreational and aesthetic value of the inland lakes and streams in your community are increasingly valuable. The long term ecological health of your local inland lakes, streams and wetlands may depend on how well your local unit of government has managed these vital resources.

As a general guide to assist you in formulating good questions to ask local unit of government candidates (and incumbents) to determine their overall qualification to hold office, here are a few examples of relevant questions:

1.  Have you completed a Michigan law specific planning and zoning training course?

2.  Can you provide a basic definition of the concept of watersheds?

3.  Can you provide a basic explanation of the importance of the United States Clean Water Act of 1972?

4.  Can you provide a  basic explanation of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994?

5.  Can you discuss the various Michigan Township Zoning Acts that authorize local townships to enact ordinances to protect local inland lake and stream resources?

6.  Can you describe the mission and roles of the Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources?

7.  Can you provide a basic explanation of the various threats to inland lake and stream resources including the role of soil erosion and sedimentation, impervious surface area, aquatic invasive plants and animal species and how local planning and zoning can help minimize these threats?

8.  Finally, you may want to query local candidates to assess their primary reason for seeking local elected office.  Do they seem to be concerned with only one issue? Do they seem to favor economic development at all cost? Do they seem to value your local inland lakes and streams? Do they seem to possess a well rounded, thoughtful and balanced perspective regarding economic development and protection of local water resources?

To learn more about the critical role of local governments in effectively managing Michigan’s treasure of inland lakes and streams and how to get directly involved running for or supporting various local candidates, we highly suggest that you take time out to read the outstanding series of articles written by Mr. Paul Sniadecki, Milton township zoning official and President of the Eagle Lake Improvement Association. This series of articles can be accessed by clicking here…

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