ST. JOSEPH — Four incumbents and one challenger will vie for four trustee seats on the St. Joseph Township Board in November’s election.
Ian Haight, a Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbents Ronald Griffin, Melissa Hahn, Edward Meny and Thomas Milnikel. The top four vote-getters will win the seats.
Haight, 35, is director of technology for Paw Paw Public Schools. He served as Hagar Township clerk from 2012-2017 and North Berrien Fire Board treasurer from 2016-2017 before moving back to St. Joseph Township.
“I lived in St. Joseph Township, just down from the hall, when I was a kid. I moved back a few years ago and want to do my part in serving my community,” Haight said. “I strongly believe in people having access to and knowing what their local elected officials are doing. My main goal is to improve transparency in the township.”
Haight said road improvements and parks and recreation activities, especially during the COVID-19 restrictions, are priorities for him, and that adequate funding for those things are among the biggest challenges facing local government.
“Promised revenue sharing from the state has not always come through, so efficiently spending tax dollars is very important,” Haight said. “I have small children and am still working, unlike most of our current board members, so I will bring a different point of view to our meetings and provoke new discussions that can only end up benefiting our community.”
Ronald Griffin, 82, is a retired information technologist. He has served on the St. Joseph Township Board for 40 years, and was supervisor for four of those years.
His committee assignments have included Public Safety, FEMA Safety, Parks, Local Communities Best Practices and Southwest Michigan Sewer and Water Board.
“My goals are to continue to actively participate in board decision-making processes, to continue the support of the high level of our police and fire departments, continue the support of our fine parks and trails system, and to bring a high level of services for our citizens’ taxes paid,” Griffin said.
Thomas Milnikel, 70, also retired, was appointed to the township board in December 2016 to fill a vacancy, then won election to the seat in November 2018. He is now completing that four-year term.
He was appointed in 2017 to serve as the township board’s liaison to the township Planning Commission and continues in that role. He served on the township’s Board of Review from January 2011 through December 2016, and resigned from that board in 2016 to serve as a township trustee. Since 2018 he has served on the township’s Capital Improvement Committee.
“As a lifelong resident of St. Joseph Charter Township, I have developed a deep caring for this community and desire to give back to my fellow residents of this township,” Milnikel said. “As a trustee, I believe that the board serves as a steward of all the public assets of the township that enhance the value and quality of life for all who visit and who call this township home.”
He said all public assets require vigilant operation, maintenance and constant improvement by the township staff.
“One of our chief priorities must be the implementation of a Total Asset Management System, which anticipates and schedules maintenance of all operating systems before problems develop,” Milnikel said.
“Secondly, we need to diligently assess and enhance the use and value of the property within the township so we can encourage population growth and continually improve the quality of life of our residents and business partners.”
Milnikel said the COVID pandemic has created unique challenges, and the township is seeing a reduction of state revenue sharing money that is an important part of the annual revenue stream.
“This gap in planned revenue presents an opportunity for the township’s board and staff to be wise and vigilant in creating greater value with the uses of the revenue we do receive,” he said.
Among his priorities, Milnikel listed providing safe pathways to be used by non-motorized vehicles and continuing to support and encourage police and fire department personnel.
Edward Meny, 73, is a retired insurance agency owner and has served four years on the township board.
His board and committee service includes the Zoning Board of Appeals, four years; Medic 1 board member, two years; chairman of the Southwestern Michigan Behavioral Health Board, three years; Berrien County Community Mental Health Board, 30 years; and St. Joseph Kiwanis Foundation, of which he is president, 25 years.
“I’m seeking re-election to the township board because the position is interesting, and important. I want to continue to improve and maintain our roads, parks, trails, and other infrastructure,” Meny said. “I want to ensure the financial health and stability of our township so as to return as much value as possible to our taxpayers and I want to continue to provide a safe and healthy environment for our residents. Fire and police protection are imperative. All of these will encourage business and economic growth.”
Meny said the most significant issues the township faces involve revenue and infrastructure.
“To plan for the uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent recession and state budget cuts, we must continue to carefully manage all our revenue and expenses, identify where the major sources of risk lie, and govern accordingly,” Meny said. “Our roads, sewer and water infrastructure must be brought up-to-date and maintained according to our formal Asset Management and Master Plans. We also want to encourage growth and development in the township. This is a gradual ongoing process that must be proactive rather than reactive, and it must be affordable for our residents. I want to work cooperatively with our neighboring municipalities as well because we all share infrastructure and resources.”
Melissa Hahn, 60, is a registered nurse and is director of business development, employer services, executive health and occupational health for Spectrum Health Lakeland.
She has served 13 years as a St. Joseph Township trustee, five years as a Village of Shoreham trustee and three years as a Shoreham road commissioner.
She listed health and safety, plus access to municipal broadband as her top priorities.
“I am deeply committed to St. Joseph Charter Township and Southwest Michigan. We are responsible for the health, safety and general welfare of residents and others within our township,” Hahn said. “The current pandemic has made evident the need for reliable internet access. Municipal broadband is vital for the future, both for our students and our businesses who have people working from home. This is a major priority.”
Another priority, she said, is the wise and responsible stewardship of funds to provide residents with services such as police, fire, roads, library, trash collection, clean water, public sewer, fair elections and parks and trails.
“I think it’s important to look for shared funding and grant opportunities to help maximize our residents’ tax dollars. I would like to provide more opportunities for residents to participate in innovative brainstorming about ways to keep St. Joseph Township the community of choice,” Hahn said. “I want to be part of leading the township toward a healthy and promising future.”
She said if re-elected, her goals would include building, maintaining and improving infrastructure, adding sidewalks and bike paths, finding ways to engage the public and ensure they are heard and considered, finding ways to partner and collaborate with other municipalities to maximize residents’ tax dollars, and working with the Berrien County Health Department to look for ways to influence health at the local level, by possibly incentivizing restaurants and grocers to increase their healthy food offerings, and encouraging residents to be active and eat healthy.