Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 5, 2013

Leelanau officials on jobs: Not our business

SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County Commissioner Melinda Lautner said she thinks Leelanau County already has enough wealth.

Another county commissioner, Debra Rushton, said county residents don’t want growth, and county residents are perfectly happy pumping gas, buying a gallon of milk and going home.

A third commissioner, Karen Zemaitis, said anyone who wants to find a good job in Leelanau County needs to figure out how to do so on their own.

Those commissioners offered those insights and more at an April 8 meeting, at which county leaders rejected a partnership with the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation to create a new jobs strategy. Commissioners also disbanded the county’s long-running economic development board, meaning the county may have to return up to $40,000 in grant money earmarked for job growth for rural residents.

Those decisions have economic development and chamber of commerce officials, many of them in Leelanau County, collectively asking one question:

What are they thinking?

Enough wealth

“The message that it sends, or at least risks sending, is that the county is closed for business,” said Doug Luciani, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. “‘We don’t want growth.’ It also puts the county at risk of really isolating itself in terms of all the things happening on a regional basis.”

The Record-Eagle obtained an audio recording of the commission’s April 8 meeting through a Freedom of Information Act request. On the recording, Lautner states the county already has enough wealth. It’s not the Board of Commissioners’ business to worry about its residents, she said.

“We can’t be health, wealth, happiness and prosperity,” Lautner said. “We are not that person. That’s not what we are elected to do. Interestingly enough, Leelanau County has health and wealth … that’s just a bonus. We are already there.”

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