SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — Voters will make their first choices for the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Aug. 4.
The most competitive race in the primary is in District 2 where multiple candidates are seeking the seat being left open by Commissioner Dan McMaster, who is not running for reelection.
McMaster first won the seat in 2016, which represents four precincts in Owosso, but did not seek reelection in 2018. He later was appointed to finish the term of Democrat John Horvath, who died in 2019.
Two Republicans and two Democrats will square off in their respective primaries. All four candidates are seeking their first term on the county board.
In the Republican primary, Elaine Wigle and Gregory Brodeur both are each seeking their first term. The Democratic primary features Aaron Ray and Robert Doran-Brockway.
Doran-Brockway is the former historic facilities project director for the city of Owosso. He believes the next elected county board should act in a less partisan manner, and “transcend party labels.” Doran-Brockway believes his experience as a “connector of people” in the community can facilitate that process, and touts the numerous nonprofit and government work he has performed in the past, including the Cook Family Foundation, Downtown Owosso Farmers Market, Owosso Main Street and many others.
“It is high time to usher in a new era of trust, kindness, empathy and bipartisanship into our Shiawassee County government,” Doran-Brockway said in an email.
This is Ray’s first run for public office. The 27-year-old is an Owosso resident, and works for Tradesman International, of Lansing, and is also a communications specialist for the Michigan National Guard.
“I want to focus so much on health and safety,” Ray said Monday. “About a month ago, one of my neighbors passed away from the coronavirus and I can’t help but think how many of the roughly 280 other cases in county, how many could have been prevented?”
Ray believes the ongoing solar project in Caledonia Township is an example of how to get more people back to work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Solar would create jobs for people working in the area,” Ray said. “They’re putting people to work in a time when finding work is more difficult than usual. There are many long-term benefits of having projects like these in our area.”
Wigle has spent most of her life in Shiawassee County, and graduated from Corunna High School in 1975. She has an associate’s degree in health care management. Wigle has worked for several local newspapers and the Owosso Historical Society. Wigle is married and has two children and nine grandchildren.
She believes the biggest issue facing Shiawassee County is declining property tax revenues, which represents most of the county’s funding, and projected future shortfalls in the county’s Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) funding.
“I am running for this seat on the Board of Commissioners because I believe that I can make a difference by making mine, my children and grandchildren, and the residents of Shiawassee County’s lives better,” Wigle said via email. “Being elected to any public position does not mean that you are entitled. It means that you are willing to research, listen, and endeavor to work with your fellow board members and residents to come up with the best solutions that work for everyone in the county. Not just some.”
Brodeur, a 25-year Owosso resident, said via email that if elected, his priorities will be roads and public health and safety, and the county’s unfunded MERS liabilities, which threaten the financial health of the community.
“I think we can have more open, collaborative, non-acrimonious discussions regarding the county’s finances — one in which all options are considered,” Brodeur said. “When my children were in school I served two terms on the Owosso school board including a time as board president. That time as well as my 20 years working in the financial industry has given me an understanding of the difficulties and responsibilities involved in holding an elected position.”
Marlene Webster is running unopposed. Webster is a Republican who won her first race over Democrat Danny Miller 2,558 to 1,933 votes (57 to 43 percent) in November 2018, and has served as commissioner since that time.
Webster, 49, is married to husband Ted, and they have two children, Allen and Abigail. She has been an Owosso resident for 25 years, and has worked with the county’s drug court program and is past president of the Owosso Area Ministerial Association. Webster holds a bachelor’s degree from Lake Superior State University in legal assistant studies and a master’s in religion from Northwest Nazarene University.
District 3, which includes the townships of Hazelton and New Haven, Caledonia Township’s Precinct 1, Venice Township’s Precinct 1 and the city of Corunna, will be represented by the winner of the general election, since neither Republican Gary Holzhausen or Democrat Brian True has a primary opponent.
Holzhausen is a five-term county commissioner. He has worked with the Shiawassee Council on Aging, Shiawassee County Mental Health, the Shiawassee County Health Department, Capital Area Community Services, and served as chairman of the county board for one year.
Brandon Marks, a Republican from Durand, is running unopposed in both the primary and general election for District 4, which is comprised of Vernon Township, and parts of Venice Township and part of the city of Durand.
A lifelong resident of Durand, Marks holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Michigan-Flint.
According to information previously provided, Marks is married to Christina, with whom he has two children, Autumn and Otto Marks.
Current District 5 Commissioner and board chairman Jeremy Root, a Republican, is being challenged in the primary by David Hovis, of Bancroft.
Root has served two terms as District 5 commissioner, first being elected in 2014. He has also been board chairman for three years. He defeated incumbent Republican Bob McLaren in the 2014 primary and ran unopposed in the general election.
Root believes the biggest issue facing the county is unfunded liabilities increasing at a faster rate than tax revenue.
“Many improvements have been made in Shiawassee County during my time on the board including BS&A software county-wide, on-line bill pay, a new public health building for barrier-free services, upgrades to county parks utilizing grant funding and increased services to veterans,” Root said. “Voters should know I am dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate about the work I do to improve county government and services.”
District 5 is comprised of Antrim, Burns, Shiawassee and Caledonia townships, and the villages of Byron and Bancroft.
Hovis currently works as a parole/probation officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, and his candidacy is his first quest for public office. He said his concerns are a lack of transparency by the county board, and substance abuse in the county.
“I would like to see growth in our small-town communities through the increase in small businesses throughout Shiawassee County. If feasible, I would also like to have the Sheriffs Department back to 24/7, 365-day patrols again,” Hovis said via email. “Through my various jobs in public service, I have learned how to make the tough decisions when needed, I bring a fresh perspective and new ideas, and I would utilize the various local and state agencies to assist in finding solutions.”
Democrat Eric Sabin is running unopposed in the primary, and will face the winner of the Republican primary. He unsuccessfully ran for the Michigan House of Representatives in 2018, losing to Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, 23,692 (61.79 percent) to 14,652 (38.21 percent).
Sabin said one of his main reasons for running is the economic disparity in Shiawassee County, and ticked off several others, including addressing future budget issues and being more transparent with constituents.
”I acknowledge that the county board, made up of seven district commissioners, does not function with seven individuals squabbling for clout,” Sabin said. “All voters should understand that their voices and suggestions are just as valid as mine as I am also a voter and citizen of the county and that I am always willing to listen and discuss how the county can be improved.”
Sabin holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, and graduated in 2013. He lives in Owosso with his wife and pets.
Both Democrat Jeff Bartz and Republican Cindy Garber are unopposed in their primaries, and will face off in the general election in November. Garber, the first-term incumbent, defeated Bartz in the 2018 general election 2,078 (51 percent) to 1,995 votes (49 percent).
Garber was the Bennington Township treasurer for 10 years, and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from MSU. She has been a Bennington Township resident for 29 years.
“The most urgent issue our county faces is the COVID-19 virus,” Garber wrote in an email. “During my time on the board very positive improvements have been made in the administration office most notably the hiring of a finance director and county administrator. If re-elected, I would like to see the county as a place where business is thriving and our residents have ample education and job opportunities.”
Bartz formerly served as the District 6 commissioner for three terms, and was also board chairman until his loss to Garber in 2018.
District 6 includes Bennington and Sciota townships, part of Owosso Township, the city of Laingsburg and part of Owosso.
Republican incumbent John Plowman is running unopposed for the District 7 seat. He has lived in Perry for 40 years, and has served eight two-year terms on the county board, and is a former Perry City Council member and Perry mayor.
Plowman has a bachelor’s degree in advanced accounting. He has been married to wife Mary for 44 years, and the couple has three children and six grandchildren.
District 7 includes the city of Perry, as well as Perry and Woodhull townships.
NOTE: The following candidates did not respond to an email sent last week seeking comment: Marlene Webster, Gary Holzhausen, Brian True, Brandon Marks, Jeff Bartz and John Plowman. Information from previous Argus-Press articles was used in this story.