TRAVERSE CITY — Political action committees are one thing, county government is another, and never the twain shall meet — in Grand Traverse County anyway — if a resolution backed by board chair, Rob Hentschel, is passed Wednesday.
The resolution — “Avoid the Perception of Tax Fund Influence on Local Elections” — was inspired by a recent TraverseConnect announcement they’d be asking the county for money, Hentschel said.
“I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone,” Hentschel said. “But I keep thinking, ‘Wait a minute, somebody paid for people to get elected and now they want us to pay them for their services?’”
Hentschel was referencing TraverseConnect’s new PAC, organized in 2018, which made contributions to the campaigns of Traverse City Commission candidates Christie Minervini, Kay Bertodatto, Dave Durbin and Amy Shamroe, as previously reported by the Record-Eagle.
Candidates for county commission did not receive any PAC funding in the 2018 campaign, said County Clerk Bonnie Scheele.
“This is a much bigger issue than my organization,” said Warren Call, CEO of TraverseConnect. “I think the real story here is, what are the county commission’s priorities and where do they spend their time an energy?
“What are they doing proactively and is this PAC resolution part of a grand plan or is it some unrelated reactionary thing that doesn’t further their key priorities?”
In October, Call spoke at a City Commission meeting to request $50,000 from the city for three years to help fund efforts to bring new business and “family sustaining careers” to the area.
The $50,000 was a portion of the $200,000 in public funds TraverseConnect would seek from the city, from Garfield Township and from the county, Call told city commissioners.
Call, a former private banking specialist with Huntington, said he will speak to Garfield Township officials in mid-December.
Hentschel, who runs his family’s hardware store, “Roy’s,” said he supports the chamber. His grandfather, Roy Hentschel, the store’s namesake who died in 2009, was a member “before I was born.”
The resolution, while inspired by TraverseConnect, would apply to any entity with a PAC seeking to do business with the county, Hentschel said.
That concerns Call, who called the resolution “vague” and said the Michigan Association of Counties and the Michigan Municipal League, both have PACS.
Earlier this year, county commissioners voted to help pay for TraverseConnect’s economic development plan, so Call said the resolution, which he learned of Monday, was confusing.
“The plan was written with their feedback, and funded with their dollars, is the plan that they’re now, for lack of a better term, not supporting,” Call said.
County Administrator Nate Alger, who will present a final draft of the 2020 $40.6M balanced budget to commissioners Wednesday, said he expects the resolution to be discussed.
“I get the issue that’s underlying the resolution,” Alger said. “That taxpayer dollars going to economic development not have an appearance of funding political campaigns. I’d like to hear further discussion on it and I think the commissioners do, too.”
The full resolution can be read online.
The wording, which Hentchel said is original, states: “Therefore, Grand Traverse County shall not enter into agreements with or expend funds to organizations that are materially connected with PACs that have a practice of financially supporting the nomination or election of candidates to public offices in the local governments within Grand Traverse County.”
The resolution is scheduled to be discussed at the next meeting of the county board, Nov. 20 beginning at 8 a.m. at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Ave.