First-term Berrien County Commissioner David Vollrath, a Republican, representing District 1, faces Democrat Patricia Camarena-Rose Barbary on the Nov. 6 ballot. Both are from Coloma.
District 1 covers Coloma, Coloma and Hagar townships and the portion of Watervliet Township north of I-94.
Before being elected to the Board of Commissioners, Vollrath served on the Coloma school board for 18 years, including as president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. He served on the board’s finance, personnel, buildings and grounds and athletic committees. He was a representative to the Berrien-Cass School Board Association.
He retired from APL Logistics in Coloma in 2004, where he was a purchasing agent and inventory specialist for almost 20 years. He is a Coloma High School graduate and recently began serving as the announcer at varsity and junior varsity football games.
He said his first term on the board has been a learning experience.
“The more you know, the more you find out what you don’t know,” Vollrath said.
On the Board of Commissioners, he sits on the Personnel and Human Services Committee, which oversees the parks and health departments and veterans services. In addition, he serves on committees for the Area Agency on Aging, the 911 Technology Committee, Local Emergency Planning, Disaster Planning, the Land Bank Authority, and Michigan Association of Counties committees on general government, judiciary and public safety.
That adds up to about 25 meetings a month, Vollrath said.
Among the board’s actions during his first term was the transition from the semi-autonomous road commission to a county road department.
Vollrath said the transition has been “smooth,” in large part due to the hiring of Jason Latham as road department director, who previously worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The candidate is pleased to see roads such as Red Arrow Highway, from Coloma to Watervliet, finally getting repaired. Riding on that stretch today “is like driving on glass. It’s never been nicer,” Vollrath said.
This success has other counties asking Berrien how they accomplished it, Vollrath said.
Another area where Berrien has led the way is in bolstering indigent legal defense for those who can’t afford to hire an attorney, Vollrath said. The county is among the first to set up a public defender’s office.
“It’s working as well as we expected it to,” Vollrath said.
One issue facing communities is a proposed consolidation of four public transportation systems, including the county’s Berrien Bus, to reach more residents. That is something that is needed in his end of the county, Vollrath said.
“People need to get to their jobs, with a regular route they can depend on,” Vollrath said.
He said he likes the plan that is on the table, and the next question will be how to come up with the projected $1.8 million in additional funding. He said that if a county-wide millage is required, people in northern Berrien County and elsewhere will need to be convinced that it will benefit them.
“We can’t drop the ball. This has to keep going,” Vollrath said.
Vollrath said he has worked hard for two years to show people he is in office to represent them, and he has developed positive relationships with other local leaders through his elected positions.
“I’m not a District 1 commissioner, I’m a Berrien County commissioner,” Vollrath said.
Barbary has lived in Berrien County for 21 years and has resided in Coloma since 2005. This is her first run for office. She said was interested in becoming part of the “pink wave” of women running for office, and was encouraged by the local Democratic Party to seek the commissioner’s seat.
Barbary said she is trying to run a nonpartisan race and has chosen the color purple to symbolize her desire to represent all residents.
“I’m a purple person. I’m not just representing the red people, and I’m not just representing the blue people,” Barbary said.
After attending Board of Commissioners’ meetings, Barbary said she sees officials also working as a team and not as individuals.
“That floats my boat,” said Barbary, who believes her team-building skills can be of value to the county.
Barbary grew up around Gary, Ind., and attended Valparaiso University, majoring in English and studying pre-law. She obtained two master’s degrees from Simmons College in Massachusetts. She moved back to the Midwest and worked for Whirlpool Corp. and later IBM, as a global projects manager and team manager.
Her first husband died in 2009 and she tried to keep their business, Coloma Car Wash, operating with the support of the community. While her son was at Coloma High School, she was active in theater and football boosters. Her family hosted three exchange students.
Barbary and her second husband own Artes and Craft, a metaphysical shop in Hartford. She said the experience has given her good business knowledge in dealing with finances and with people. She and her husband are also members of the North Berrien Historical Museum.
She said she has seen the struggle some residents have with the lack of public transportation, through her own mother’s difficulties getting to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and other needs.
Expanding public transportation “is just essential,” Barbary said.
She is pleased with the planning taking place to fix roads on a scientific, factual basis and not based on politics, and getting surfaces in fair shape back to good condition before they further deteriorate.
“That’s a really good way of doing it,” she said.
Infrastructure issues extend to internet service, Barbary said. People living on the south side of I-94 don’t have as good access as those on the north side, she observed, something she’d like to see corrected.
In talking to residents, Barbary said many of them are troubled by the larger political picture across the country, and feel “discontent and fear.”
“Berrien County doesn’t work that way,” Barbary said. “Berrien County works as a cohesive whole. We don’t look at the world like this is you and this is us.”
This is a system that Barbary believes she can contribute to. “I’m a problem-solver.”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak