DATA board appointment splits Delta County Board

ESCANABA — A regular appointment to the Delta Area Transit Authority board became personal Tuesday, when three commissioners blocked the appointment of a former Delta County commissioner that was recommended for the DATA board by the Delta County Township Association.

The primary reason given for blocking the appointment of Theresa Nelson was comments she allegedly made about asking businesses not to work with Commissioner Bob Petersen.

“I will not vote for that. Well, I guess it’s going to be personal, because she, early on in my tenure here, made a … statement that she was going to get ahold of my real estate companies that I work with regularly, she was going to send a letter asking them not to … work with me and I don’t see rewarding that as a good thing,” he said Tuesday.

The commission’s relationship with Nelson is complicated. She served on the county board as a Democrat representing District 3 from 2017 to 2022, when changes made in the county’s 2021 District Reapportionment Plan went into effect. Those changes redrew the district boundaries in such a way that she was placed in the same district as Republican Commissioner Bob Barron, who had previously represented District 5. This led to an election where both candidates were technically incumbents. Barron ultimately defeated Nelson at the polls for the District 3 seat, and knocked Nelson off the board entirely.

The same quirk created an opening for the District 5 seat, which was vacated when Barron was no longer a resident of District 5. Petersen ran unopposed for the seat in 2022 as a Republican.

The new term in 2023 — with Barron now in District 3, Petersen in District 5, and Commissioner and Board Chair Dave Moyle in District 4 — was plagued with controversies. However, it was the three commissioner’s votes to terminate Former Delta County Administrator Emily DeSalvo on Feb. 7 of that year that prompted the Delta County Citizens for Ethical Leadership to launch a recall effort against them.

That effort culminated in all three commissioners being recalled Tuesday night by wide and nearly identical margins, with each of the commissioners receiving 26-27% of the vote and their challengers receiving 72-73%.

The vote on Nelson’s appointment took place about an hour-and-a-half before polls closed Tuesday. However, Petersen himself suggested tabling the item to allow whoever was elected to make the decision about Nelson’s appointment.

“I don’t think we should delay something we should move forward at the present,” said Commissioner Steve Viau, who supported Nelson’s appointment.

Viau and Commission John Malnar, neither of whom were the subject of Tuesday’s recall, both spoke out against allowing a personal issue to derail Nelson’s appointment. Viau described the idea the commission would reject Nelson, who has previously served on similar boards, as “bizarre.”

“She seems to be getting the support of all the townships. … I know how personalities can get involved, but it should not determine the value she can have,” he said.

Malnar primarily commented on the personal-nature of the commission’s hesitancy to appoint Nelson.

“There’s been several times, we always say, ‘don’t get personal on this,’ well, now we’re doing it,” he said.

The rest of the commissioners, took the position that there are “consequences” to comments like those Nelson is said to have made.

Without any real support for tabling the vote, Nelson’s appointment to the DATA board was rejected 3-2.


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