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Moyle talks about politics, criticisms and future goals

ESCANABA — Delta County Commission Chair Dave Moyle sat down with the Daily Press recently to respond to criticisms of the board and his leadership, outline his goals for the county, and highlight areas where he feels the county is moving in the right direction.

POLITICS AND RECALLS

Moyle admits that 2023 has been rocky for the commission — particularly since the controversial termination of the county’s administrator in early February — but argues that much of the derision aimed at the board is part of a larger problem of “destruction politics” that have been playing out at the national level. According to him, “some people want to create the look the county’s falling apart” and many people have lost the ability to set aside differences of opinion.

“When I hit the ground running on January 3, I asked to be there. So I knew this wasn’t going to be a garden party, but I also didn’t think it was going to get as obstructive as it has been, but that’s American politics right now,” he said.

While paperwork has not yet been filed, it is common knowledge that there is an organized effort to recall Moyle, as well as commissioners Bob Barron and Bob Petersen.

“I believe the recalls, they’ll be tried, and if the public wants me to stay, I’ll stay, and if they want me to go, I’m gone. But if I leave office, I leave knowing that I’ve done the best job I could for the people. I’m not perfect, but I’ve done the best job I could and I’ve been honest, and that’s something that I’m very serious about,” he said.

Moyle strongly denied claims that Petersen or Barron were under his influence.

“The biggest thing that people are saying is that Barron and Petersen are like my lackeys, and they don’t know these two guys real well, because Bob and Bob — the Bobs — are two of the most stubborn human beings — and I say that in a good way. They don’t do what I tell them to do,” he said.

AIRPORT

Moyle has taken heat from the public following the sudden resignation of Airport Manager Andrea Nummilien earlier this month. In an interview with the Daily Press and during a public statement read at the June 6 commission meeting, Nummilien pointed to Moyle as a major contributing factor in her decision to resign.

See MOYLE page 3A

Among Nummilien’s complaints was a visit by Moyle and Barron to the airport when she was on vacation that she described was “a mission to find dirt” on her. Moyle said he went to the airport to find out what changes would need to be made for Delta Airlines to bring in larger jets, something he felt would benefit the county in light of the contractors that could be coming to the county to work on the planned expansion of the Billerud paper mill.

“I didn’t know she was on vacation and that, I felt actually badly about that, but I was doing my fiduciary job trying to protect the community. It wasn’t about her not doing her job, I was just trying to reach out to Delta,” he said.

According to Moyle, there are certain security protocols not currently in place that would be necessary for the larger jets to come into the airport, and that he had never had a conversation with Nummilien about not liking her job performance.

HOUSING

If the Billerud expansion moves forward, the Escanaba mill will shift to producing paperboard, a packaging material used it things like cereal boxes. An announcement on whether the expansion will come to the Escanaba mill or go to one of the Billerud mills in Quinnesec or Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. is expected soon, as the paper producer stated earlier this year the announcement would be made in the first half of 2023.

Moyle said he firmly believes the expansion will come to Escanaba. If it does, the city could see between 2,000 and 2,500 contractors coming to the county to install the new paperboard machine.

Given the possibility of the influx of workers for the mill, the county has put a greater focus on increasing available housing. It has been working with the cities of Escanaba and Gladstone and the Hannahville Indian Community to connect water and sewer to the Bayview area, allowing for development in an area that suffers from groundwater contamination.

Moyle also suggested establishing a point of contact for the mill to assist Billerud as it makes its transition to paperboard.

“They’re going to have the biggest paper machine in the world here in Delta County and I think somebody, one of the commissioners or somebody at the county level needs to be the liaison available to them so they … don’t run into any snags or snafus,” he said.

ANNEXATION

One issue that Moyle expects a disagreement with Barron on is the proposed annexation of more than 19,000 acres of Escanaba Township into neighboring Cornell Township. Barron — who is one of 26 property owners whose contracts with a solar developer ended after Escanaba Township changed course from being pro-solar development to adopting solar regulations so strict the developers scrapped the project entirely — was instrumental in the proposal and has indicated he intends to participate when the application for annexation comes before the board.

“The board already voted 4-1 that he should recuse himself. That should be a clear harbinger of where we’re going with this,” said Moyle.

The annexation was originally set to appear on the board’s May 16 agenda, however the application was not received at that time. It is slated to appear on Tuesday’s agenda.

“If the application comes in, I don’t know if we’ll vote on it or not. If we do vote on it, I think it’s going down in flames. I don’t think it’ll pass,” said Moyle.

Moyle said that, while he cannot speak for the rest of the commission, he does not intend to support the annexation proposal because he cannot support voting for something that would remove a duly-elected township official from their seat. If the annexation passes, three members of the township board would be removed because they would no longer live in Escanaba Township.

PARKS

According to Moyle, the county is currently in the process of hiring a new manager for the parks to take over when the Delta Conservation District contract for parks management ends Dec. 31.

“We’re taking immediate steps to make sure that the parks are self-sustaining and that we don’t go backwards because the conservation district is going to be there for a limited amount of time,” he said.

EMPLOYEE WAGES AND BENEFITS

One thing the county has been working on, according to Moyle, is increasing the wages for county staff. Prior to Nummilien’s resignation, the board was already intending to increase the salary for the airport manager’s position by $5,000.

In addition to making wages more competitive, Moyle wants to institute a tuition payment plan for county employees. Under the plan, which has not yet been brought before the board, Moyle envisions county employees in approved educational programs having half of their tuition reimbursed for a C grade, 75% for a B, and 100% reimbursement for an A.

“An educated workforce is a happy workforce and a secure workforce and I would like to see this be one perk that we give our employees that we currently don’t. We’re going to get the wages up, more and more as we can, but I don’t see so many people going to college where we couldn’t afford to do this,” said Moyle.

VETERANS

The county is continuing to work on increasing funding for veterans services, either through the use of nearly 125-year-old law that levies up to 1/10 of a mill (10 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) for emergency services for indigent veterans or a 1953 law that creates county departments of veterans affairs and a related fund that must contain at least $50,000.

It is unclear whether the county will use Public Act 214 of 1899 or Public Act 192 of 1953 to fund veterans services, but Moyle expects to see change to support veterans and the county’s  Veterans Service Office.

“There might be differences of opinion on the board as far as how we do things, but we all want the vets, especially (Delta County Veteran’s Service Officer Dave Xavier), getting some help, because he’s burning out,” he said.

MILITARY PARK

Another thing Moyle wants to do is create a veterans park. His dream is to have 12 to 15 stations featuring retired military vehicles, like tanks, on concrete pads along a non-motorized trail suitable for walking and skiing.

“I think it would be a field trip location for a lot of the schools, it would be a way to honor the vets; something that’s just very unique that could bring people to the area,” he said.

Moyle says the park has been a dream of his for 13 years.

SECOND AMENDMENT

Moyle said the county board’s reaffirmation of its Second Amendment sanctuary county status added “teeth” to the resolution passed in 2020. He added the original resolution was more of a compromise, as former Delta County Board Chair Patrick Johnson was more of a political moderate than Moyle.

“The difference between that one and this one is the provision that we will not fund red flag laws that are unconstitutional,” said Moyle, noting funding for the courts and the sheriff’s office all pass through the county.

PRAYER

Prayer in county board meetings has been a contentious issue, however Moyle said prayer was a “fundamental American value” and reiterated prior statements he has made the no one is being forced to pray during the invocational prayer offered at the start of the meeting.

MENTAL HEALTH

Moyle also responded to controversial comments about mental health that were made by Barron at a recent county commission meeting by saying he felt mental health services in Michigan are underfunded.

“Eighty-percent of the people in our jail have some mental need, and we’re spending $50,000 a year to feed, clothe and medicate prisoners, but we’re cutting back on social workers in the public schools, and it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB

One issue that Moyle felt could help Delta County youth is the movement to create a county-wide Boys and Girls Club. The club is in the early stages, though the county has received multiple presentations from the man spearheading the program, Ricky Graham, and a meeting between the county and the organization’s regional coordinator has been set for July 23.

“We’ve already got pledges for almost $75,000,” said Moyle.

COURTHOUSE SECURITY

Courthouse security has been a topic of discussion at multiple county meetings. According to Moyle, the security upgrades are currently underway with the addition of bullet-proof glass in some ares and electronic locking doors.

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