Vacancy pits trustee against challenger for treasurer position

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 4, 2016

 Phil Rode

Phil Rode


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The race to replace Bill Sowerby is underway.

Sowerby, who has served as treasurer of Clinton Township for nearly 20 years, threw his name into the 31st House District representative hat. His running for state government will result in a vacancy at the treasurer position.

Current Clinton Township Trustee and Democrat Paul Gieleghem will square off against Republican Phil Rode in the Aug. 2 election.

Gieleghem has been a trustee since 2012. He served on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners from 2005 to 2010, and has spent the past few years working in the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office. He oversees the public sector, as well as personal property divisions.

By running for treasurer to replace Sowerby, a fellow Democrat, Gieleghem will relinquish his trustee seat.

“As a trustee you’re not there day to day, you don’t have the opportunity to impact day-to-day operations,” Gieleghem said. “Your job is to oversee.”

He said what he has learned as both a trustee and an employee at the county level has given him valuable insight into what it takes to serve at the township level. He said his role involves safeguarding township funds and making it as convenient as possible for township entities to meet tax obligations.

The treasurer is also a member of the Board of Trustees, so the responsibility is twofold.

Rode is no stranger to Clinton Township.

A resident since 1965, he said he has seen the growth of the township and has been the type of person to be involved in the community. He has been a Kiwanis Club member for 20 years and a member of the Selfridge Base Community Council for 18 years.

He possesses a business and finance degree in business administration from Wayne State University. He has worked for community banks and mortgage companies for nearly 30 years, and is currently a business development director for U.S. Machine Co. in Fraser.

“I am no stranger to a balance sheet,” Rode said.

In terms of defining himself, Rode said he wants the township to take a more pro-business approach.

“I think Bill Sowerby has been fiscally responsible and I approve of the job that he’s done, but I believe the township has its challenges as the economy grows and how they allocate their funds,” he said. “If there is a difference between me and the current treasurer, I definitely understand that if you’re going to grow tax revenues, you have to drive a thriving business environment. I don’t think that’s true right now. We have a short window that you have to take advantage of.

“I think (my platform is) more of my personality, my attitude toward growth. I understand business.”

Gieleghem had no comment on his opponent, saying Rode can speak for himself. Rode had a similar outlook, saying he respected Gieleghem and that he’s focusing on his own campaign — one that relies on the business side of things rather than the legislative end.

Rode said he has started door-to-door campaigning.

“I’m doing this for the good of the community,” Rode said. “I’ve been among this community, active in this community, grew up in this community. The way I look at this is (it’s) for the good of the community. 

“It’s an open seat and Sowerby has done a good job and is moving on. It’s time for someone new and a fresh set of eyes.”

Gieleghem, the lifelong Clinton Township resident who possesses a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Wayne State University and an associate’s degree in business from Macomb Community College, said he has started campaigning, too. It’s just a matter of putting it all together, he said.

“I’ve always been known of being a real grassroots-oriented campaigner, which involves going door to door and getting your message out,” Gieleghem said.

Gieleghem called Sowerby a “very steady hand” throughout the years he’s served, going “above and beyond” to conduct business within the township, such as in the form of exploring online payments and statutory obligations.