MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A former state lawmaker is taking on a veteran commissioner for the right to represent Norton Shores on the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners.
Democrat Mary Valentine is challenging incumbent Republican Bob Scolnik in the Nov. 3 general election for the board’s district four seat.
Valentine served in the Michigan House of Representatives for two terms, from 2007-11. Scolnik has served 18 years on the county board.
Board terms are for two years. The fourth district encompasses most of the city of Norton Shores.
This year, MLive Media Group partnered with the League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information for readers. Each candidate was asked to outline their stances on a variety of public policy issues.
Information on all state and federal races and many of Michigan’s county and local races are available at Vote411.org, an online voter guide created by the League of Women Voters.
Here is information the candidates provided about their qualifications and experience:
— Bob Scolnik was an entrepreneur/business owner for 28 years, retiring at age 53 to work in public service. He served as a Norton Shores City Council member from 1991-01 before being elected county commissioner in 2002. He also has been chairman of the United of Way of Muskegon County, chairman of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, president of Hackley Visiting Nurses and Hospice, president of Michigan Pine and Dunes Girl Scouts in addition to “numerous” other leadership positions. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and Korea, attained the rank of captain and was a senior advisor to the Army Reserve in West Michigan. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Hobart College in Geneva, New York.
— Mary Valentine, who is a retired speech pathologist and social worker, says her “work in the helping fields” prepared her to effectively communicate with a variety of people. She said she has seen “first-hand” the impacts of poverty and knows the importance of listening to various viewpoints. She has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree at Northern Michigan University.
The candidates submitted responses to questions posed by the League of Women Voters, which are included in its online voter guide.
Follows is a look at how the candidates responded to questions on some key issues. Their responses have not been edited.
What are your top three priorities for Muskegon County and how would you address them?
Valentine: Good-paying jobs, of course, addressed below. We also need to address public health, including sensible policies to protect citizens from the spread of covid-19, reproductive justice, and funding for public health, including incarcerated citizens.
Provide for public safety while treating all with dignity and respect. To mitigate police harassment, I would work to establish a task force to develop effective strategies. Further, I would help to develop a citizen oversight committee to address issues at the jail.
Increase citizen involvement. As many are unable to attend commission meetings so early in the day, I will strive to move the meetings to later in the day. Further, I will initiate coffee hours, forums, and email updates.
Scolnik: 1. Try to reduce the polarization currently that exists between a few commissioners and move the county forward. 2. Continue to try and strengthen the County’s financial position and improve its fund balance. 3. Continue to work on improving our statewide image, attract new younger people to our workforce, promote entrepreneurism and position Muskegon as a place for Startups. 4. Work on sensitizing County employees and the community to issues of Racism while doing all we can do to create equal opportunities for everyone. The financial question involves carefully looking at current services and see what is required and what we are doing. We may have to do more with less to improve our financial condition. The other 3 priorities can be addressed through education and state-wide outreach efforts. Reducing Racism is a major issue and the more our citizens are sensitized and educated, hopefully Racism can be seriously reduced and eliminated.
What policies do you support to increase jobs and help your residents improve their economic positions?
Scolnik: I believe that education is the single biggest driver to more and better jobs. Better jobs will improve our resident’s economic positions. We need to continue to work with Muskegon Area First in their efforts to retain companies in the area and to help them expand. We need to encourage businesses to have their own training programs to increase their employees skill levels and make these people more valuable to their employers. We need to look at our MATS Transportation system and see what we can do better to get people to work reliably. And we could convene county meeting to see how we could encourage employers to help with daycare. This could open up job opportunities to potential workers who cannot access affordable child care, so they choose to stay home rather than join the work force.
Valentine: First, I would assure those working on county projects are paid fairly by working toward re-instituting the prevailing wage policy.
I would support moving aggressively toward clean energy, to attract clean energy businesses, as communities across the country begin to address climate change. I would also work to establish our area as an educational training hub for clean energy and sustainability careers. By retrofitting our buildings for energy efficiency, we can create jobs that cannot be shipped out of our area.
Communities with strong education, good public transportation, and excellent recreational opportunities are critical to draw new businesses to our area. These are the things I will work to bring to this county.
What actions or policies do you support to protect the county’s water, air and land for current and future generations while meeting community energy needs?
Valentine: I support maintenance of the county’s sustainability office and encourage its expansion to encompass increased coordination on areawide recycling and climate change initiatives. My top priority would be to support doing what we can to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions of county operations such as electrification of transportation fleets, and utilizing renewable energy sources wherever possible such as with solar and wind energy projects.
Other actions would include coordination with other municipal governments and state and federal government to ensure clean lakes, and rivers through pollution prevention and green infrastructure projects and effective cleanup of contaminated areas.
Scolnik: The County has been working for a number of years on trying to attract solar and wind power energy producers utilizing the approximately 11,000 acres that we have available at the county wastewater site. I’ve supported leases for test sites and we currently have a potential solar farm operator who is still doing their due diligence. We had a test site for wind power, but it did not show enough wind potential. The County Wastewater system is an engineering marvel and has been, for decades, protecting the county’s water by cleaning and reusing wastewater. I support policies protecting, in every way possible, our beautiful rivers and lakes as sources for clean water as well as beautiful tourist attractions. Over a decade ago, I brought forward a motion to ban the sale of fertilizers containing phosphorus in Muskegon County. It passed and helped reduce pollution in our lakes.
What initiatives or policies do you support to help increase tourism and recreational activities in your municipality for residents and visitors?
Scolnik: I have been a strong supporter of our Convention Center since the very beginning. I served on the earliest committees and focus groups looking at the feasibility of the Center. As the Chair of the County Community Development and Strategic Planning Committee for over a decade, I’ve worked on improving Heritage Landing so our Festival season is now full (except in a Pandemic year!), I supported and voted for the new cruise ship docking infrastructure that has resulted in making Muskegon a major Great Lakes cruise ship destination. I’ve supported the biking initiatives…Depot to Depot and others…to increase healthy recreation and tourism. I’ve supported sand encouraged improving and making our parks and campgrounds more user friendly. In recent years we introduced online camping registration, now bringing in about $100,000 in registration fees in the first week of each new year. Plus I support regional tourism outreach in surrounding states. “WATCH mUSkeGOm”
Valentine: With its world class beaches, coastal dunes, green space and forestlands, numerous lakes and rivers, in addition to a wide variety of museums and cultural events, Muskegon is a tourist mecca. I support maintenance, protection and expansion of these gems.
We need to protect public access so not only our own residents, but also tourists can use and appreciate all our county has to offer. We should always continue to improve and expand these resources. Supporting all of our cities and townships to develop a strong recreational network while continuing to bring the excellent cultural events our county provides is critical.
Also on MLive:
Voters to decide next Muskegon County district court judge
State lawmaker faces political newcomer in race for Muskegon County’s 92nd District seat
Muskegon County state representative faces Nov. 3 challenge from assistant prosecutor
Huizenga faces Democratic pastor in quest to keep 2nd Congressional seat