Local Governance is Critical to Responsible Lake Management
by Paul J. Sniadecki, President, Eagle Lake Improvement Association, Inc.
The next general election is only 12 months away, and most local municipalities in Michigan will elect to retain or to bring new faces and ideas to their governing bodies in early November of 2012. We should never underestimate how effective a local municipality (a township, city, or village) can be in protecting local lakes, if progressive, conservation oriented people are elected to the governing body. The overall impact on lakes (whether positive or negative) can be dramatic. Local governments can pursue pro-lake policies through progressive zoning ordinances and/or their master plans – they possess well established legal authority to pass ordinances and policies that regulate storm water runoff, lake access and public road ends, dock placement and public boat launch facilities, lakefront residential and commercial development, natural shoreline preservation and restoration, create local environmental committees as well as develop and implement local natural resources conservation guidelines.
Unfortunately, in some townships with lakes, it is difficult to elect pro-lake officials since the majority of riparian property owners are not residents (and hence, are not locally registered voters). There are also many instances of non-riparians sitting on the township board who are not particularly sympathetic to lake issues. In other townships, riparians have no such excuse, as there are sufficient riparian voters to be able to elect township boards comprised entirely of pro-lake people, but this rarely occurs, primarily due to apathy among riparians.
Now is the time to assess your local situation and make plans to bring about the needed changes to your local governing body. All riparians should determine which current local officials merit “retention”, and which ones need to be voted out. Riparians with basic leadership ability should be identified and encouraged to run for office. Do not accept lack of governmental ”knowledge/experience” as a barrier or as an excuse – the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Association of Planners as well as Michigan State University regularly conduct training classes and seminars for those involved in and/or those interested in serving in an official municipal government capacity. These training events occur throughout the year and in many convenient locations throughout the state of Michigan.
Please visit the following websites of the aforementioned organizations and educational institutions that offer outstanding and affordable training opportunities for those considering a run for local elected office.
Michigan Township Associations: http://www.michigantownships.org/training.asp
Michigan Municipal League: http://www.mml.org/events/index.html
Michigan Association of Planners: http://www.planningmi.org/events_2.asp
Michigan State University Citizen Planner Program: http://citizenplanner.msu.edu/
MSU Institute of Water Research: http://184.108.40.206/IWR/VU/modules/drain/drain.asp
In addition, folks interested in running for local government office can find helpful information regarding election filing deadlines and Candidate Petition Requirements for 2012 by visiting:
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a year long series of articles that will appear in this section of our web site regarding the upcoming general election. As Mr. Sniadecki has so effectively illustrated in his article, local elections in particular present Michigan voters with an outstanding opportunity to foster constructive, community-based pre-election discussion and debate focused on the important role of local government in the wise management of Michigan’s wealth of lake and stream resources. The significance of this discussion is highlighted by the fact that very few local governments in Michigan have effectively exercised their state legislature granted authority to contribute to the preservation and protection of our inland lakes and streams. You and your neighbors are uniquely empowered to affect the outcome of local elections and the future of your favorite lake or stream!