County commissioners attend conference
HARRIS — County commissioners from across the Upper Peninsula came to the Island Resort and Casino earlier this week for the Upper Peninsula Association of County Commissioners (UPACC) Fall Conference. This conference was held on Oct. 19 and 20.
According to Jonathan Mead, president and CEO of the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress — the organization that serves as the administrative agent for UPACC — the goal of this conference is to give commissioners an opportunity to learn about topics that have an impact on the U.P.
“(It’s) to address issues that impact county boards and their constituents,” he said.
The agenda for each UPACC conference includes a wide variety of speakers.
“We generally base it on (commissioners’) input,” Mead said of the process of developing these agendas.
According to Mead, attendance at the Fall Conference was expected to fall in line with previous UPACC conferences.
“Usually, we have about 40-50,” he said.
Delta County Board of Commissioners Chair David Rivard was one of the people in attendance at this conference. He said this event gives commissioners a chance to interact and speak about the issues that affect all of them.
“I think it unites all the commissioners in the Upper Peninsula,” he said.
Rivard also noted that commissioners usually have a chance to ask questions of the people speaking at these conferences.
“It gives us an opportunity to (go) one-on-one with these speakers,” he said.
Delta County Commissioner Theresa Nelson attended the conference, as well. Earlier in 2017, she had attended the UPACC Spring Conference.
“It was just good for me … to communicate with people from other counties,” she said of her experiences at the previous conference.
Nelson said she was excited to hear from the speakers at this event.
“I’m sure I’m going to learn so much,” she said.
The UPACC Fall Conference began Thursday with a presentation by Michigan State Police (MSP) District 8 Commander John Halpin. Halpin spoke about the MSP’s history and the services they provide in the U.P.
According to Halpin, the MSP will be making a significant addition to these services in the near future.
“We’re getting a helicopter up here,” he said, noting that some troopers are currently in training to become pilots for this helicopter.
Halpin also spoke about recent increases in speed limits on some state highways and freeways in Michigan. While increasing these speed limits was a legislative mandate, the MSP will be taking steps to deal with speeding on these roads.
“It’s a problem, and we’re addressing it,” he said.
After Halpin’s presentation, commissioners heard a panel discussion on recent developments in the federal government. During this panel, Elise Matz, U.P. Regional Director for Sen. Gary Peters, provided a summary of some of Peters’ recent legislative highlights.
Matz noted that Peters has been appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“They did just pass out of the Senate a National Defense Authorization Act that had several provisions that were authored by him,” she said.
Peters is also a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
“He worked with the chairman of that committee … on legislation that would authorize the Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin setting standards for autonomous vehicles,” Matz said.
Matz was followed by Jay Gage, regional manager for Sen. Debbie Stabenow. According to Gage, Stabenow has been a strong supporter of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This initiative, which provides funding for the improvement and protection of the Great Lakes, was at risk of being eliminated in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
“That funding is incredibly important for all of the Upper Peninsula,” he said.
Gage said Stabenow is also focused on keeping and maintaining funding for healthcare access, particularly in rural areas.
“Preserving funding to save our rural hospitals, especially here in the Upper Peninsula, is critically, critically important,” he said.
Rep. Jack Bergman made a personal appearance at the conference. Like other members of Congress represented in the panel discussion, Bergman said he is in support of efforts to procure funding for the reconstruction of the Soo Locks.
“When I was … running for office a year ago, I said on the front end that my top infrastructure priority for the first district would be the Soo Locks, and that hasn’t changed,” he said.
Bergman also spoke about the current status of efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this year, he voted in favor of the American Health Care Act of 2017.
“We’re just waiting for the Senate to do whatever the Senate’s going to do, (because) we passed it out of the House, and we have to wait for the Senate to do something before we can take the next step,” he said.
David Nyberg, U.P. Director for Gov. Rick Snyder, also spoke on this panel. Over the past several months, Nyberg said, Snyder’s work has been focused on three core themes.
“That is education, infrastructure, and our 21st-century economy,” he said, noting that the governor announced the creation of commissions in these categories during his 2016 State of the State address.
Nyberg said these themes have also been at the center of Snyder’s recent budget recommendations and policy development.
“(He’s) really trying to hone in on those priorities in the last remaining months of his term,” Nyberg said.
Later on Thursday, commissioners heard updates on work force programs in the U.P. and InvestUP. The following morning, they received updates from representatives of the Michigan Association of Counties and state legislators — including Rep. Scott Dianda, Rep. Beau LaFave, and Sen. Tom Casperson’s chief of staff Marty Fittante — before a UPACC business meeting was held.
Menominee County Commissioner Bernie Lang said he was satisfied with the Fall Conference.
“This is not the first one I’ve come (to), and I think it holds up to the others,” he said.