By Harbor Light News Staff | on May 24, 2023
By Charlie MacInnis
What would possess four county commissioners on the governing body of our four-county health department to block a plan to bring locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables into our public schools? The commissioners clearly showed that they don’t understand the Open Meetings Act, the Public Health Code or Roberts Rules of Order, but we have to wonder if something else is going on.
You may recall that, at their aborted meeting earlier this month, the eight members of the Board of Health couldn’t even agree on an agenda and the chairman had to abandon the meeting at which a $500,000 grant for fresh fruit and vegetables was on the agenda for approval. The deadline was missed, and the grant opportunity may be gone.
Their stated objections to giving local produce to our kids were as disturbing as the Unabomber Manifesto. I won’t try to repeat them. Let’s look elsewhere for the real reasons.
First, we can blame ourselves. Thoughtful community leaders who could have run for county commissioner decided they were too busy or were just repelled by the idea of taking part in local politics. The anti-fruit commissioners on the board of health, including one from Emmet County, decided to run for the jobs we didn’t want and then we elected them.
Many people theorize there is a more seismic change responsible for the sad state of our politics today: the demographics of our Michigan communities are undergoing an historic shift and some people are angry and frightened at what they see.
That is why I invited Dr. Jaclyn Butler, the demographer for the State of Michigan to come to North Central Michigan College in Petoskey for a luncheon lecture on Monday, June 5, to explain the most recent state and local census numbers. She will likely tell us what many see and fear: that we’re an aging, shrinking, changing population.
Dr. Butler and her team analyze population data and advise governmental leaders, nonprofits, and the general public on the sources, uses, and limitations of U.S. Census data. She will help us understand what lies ahead, good or bad.
There is another reason. For four decades, Michigan’s legislators got to pick their voters. While statewide elective offices in Michigan have been held increasingly by Democratic women, gerrymandered districts protected the legislature from the reality of Michigan’s changed electorate.
That ended in 2018 when Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that turned the job of aligning legislative districts every decade over to an independent commission. I have invited the leaders of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to come to the college on Thursday, July 20, to explain the process that resulted in a dramatic shift in the power structure in Lansing.
Edward Woods III, executive director, and Steven Terry Lett, former chairman of the commission, will explain the redistricting process, how it changed Michigan’s political landscape and why the commission continues to receive accolades as a national model for redistricting. They will also give a briefing on the latest legal challenge to the Michigan House and Senate maps.
The staff members of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan do heroic work to protect the health of the public in Emmet, Charlevoix, Otsego and Antrim counties and beyond. Monthly meetings of the governing body overseeing the agency have become a sad clown car spectacle. It will be easier for us to fix that problem if we understand its causes. Whatever the reasons, we need to find a way out of this mess.
Here are three easy first steps: Attend board of health and county commissioner meetings to witness the spectacle firsthand. Dates, times and locations are online. If you encounter a staff member of the health department, give her or him a hug. And come to my luncheon lectures at the college to better understand the factors contributing to our widespread anxiety. Registration is required. Go to www.ncmclifelonglearning.com/ events to get a seat at the table.
Charlie MacInnis is the former Emmet County Commissioner for District 3. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org