Macomb TownshipJune 19, 2012
Incumbent faces business owner for clerk’s seat
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
MACOMB TOWNSHIP — For Michael Koehs, the 62-year-old township clerk, the best part of the position he’s held for the past decade is conducting elections.
“That’s probably the most underrated thing that clerks do,” he said.
But he takes pride in it. A piece of paper is affixed to the wall of his second-story office. On it are various boxes filled with descriptions and deadlines. The boxes remind him when to order pencils, when to order ballots, when to order absentee ballots and other supplies for the growning number of voting precincts in the township. He speaks of the logistical chart like a football coach over his playbook.
“When I started, we had 15 or 18 precincts,” he said. “Now we’ve got 35,” he said, a testament to the township’s growth. “I used to train 70 or 80 election workers. Now I train 350.”
And at the end of each election, Koehs said he personally tallies each vote. He calls the process “fun.”
“You can’t move elections,” Koehs said. “You get one shot, and it’s got to be 100 percent. It’s awesome because it’s an achievement.”
But the November general election will be the last ballot on which his name appears, whether he wins or loses to Republican candidate and local business owner Cathy Imbronone after the Aug. 7 Republican primary election.
Because the two are Republicans and there are no Democratic candidates, whoever wins the primary will automatically win the clerk position.
If Koehs wins, he said he will not seek re-election in 2016.
But Imbronone thinks the time is now for a fresh pair of eyes in the clerk’s office.
When mulling whether to run for the position, Imbronone said a fellow Macomb business owner was struggling to get another store opened in the township because of regulations and red tape from township officials.
“He looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Cathy, if I didn’t have so much money invested already, I’d go right to Shelby Township,’” Imbronone said. “And he’s not the first person who told me that. And that was probably the first thing that prompted me to want to run.”
Imbronone, 60, has operated the banquet center Tina’s Country House for 30 years in the township. Her father originally ran the business on the east side of Detroit before he moved it to its current location along North Avenue.
Last year, she opened Tavern at Tina’s, a restaurant and bar located in the same parking lot as her original business, after a four-year lawsuit with the township stalled the tavern’s opening.
Imbronone said the lawsuit is in the past and not the reason she is running for the clerk position. Instead, she said, she is driven by a belief that a fresh perspective could help shake up archaic procedures in the clerk’s office. “I don’t think they want to look outside the box,” she said.
She cited as an example a decision in Windsor, Ontario, a couple of years ago, when the local government decided that that little cafes in their downtown area could put patio tables out in front of their buildings without going through the process of getting zoning approval.
“The reason was, if their business could get just a couple extra people to stop and spend a couple extra dollars in this economy, it would benefit those businesses and in turn keep their storefronts full, so their downtown area looked like a thriving community,” she said.
In Macomb, Imbronone said, local officials are stuck in pre-recession days when developers were willing to go the extra yard or pay extra fees if it meant they were able to place their stake in the ground.
“I think it kind of spoiled our officials,” Imbronone said. “I think they could say to a developer, ‘Well, I know you are going to do this, but how about you do this, too.’ They became so used to being able to do that; as the economy turned, they still have that mentality that things are the way they used to be.”
But Koehs said the view that the township is not business friendly is “categorically false.”
He said business complaints come from places that try to set up shop outside of the township’s zoning ordinances, and the fact that township is approving on average one new business a week is proof enough that they are not unfriendly to new businesses.
“We apply the same rules, the same ordinances, the same procedures to everybody,” he said. “We don’t treat anybody differently.”
One thing Imbronone said specifically the township can do is provide more online services.
“I think it’s important that we make our community more user friendly, bring (the township clerk’s office) into the technological age,” Imbronone said. “There’s so many things you can access online that you can’t do here.”
Koehs argues that the township stays on the frontline of technology. When he first became deputy clerk 15 years ago, every department was using different software to manage their accounts.
“There was no standardization,” he said. “You had to translate files to get them from one department to another.”
Now, every department uses the same system, he said, and the township is constantly looking to advance its technological infrastructure while ensuring new programs they are putting in place are reliable.
Both candidates say it’s important that the township stay fiscally conservative over the next four years despite its residential growth and despite having $29 million stored in a rainy day fund.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods just yet,” Koehs said. “So we need to maintain our strong financial and fiscal responsibility.”
At the same time, the township is responding to an increase in service needs that come with population growth. He said that is why the township Board of Trustees formed the Road Paving Committee this year, which chose 2.8 miles of township road as a priority for paving.
As a business owner, Imbronone said she knows what it’s like sometimes to struggle with paying bills while having to maintain service. Like a business, the township needs to make educated investments, she said.
“I don’t want to see anybody waste money,” Imbronone said.
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