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Wednesday, May 30,2012

Candidate cries foul over last-minute switch

by Kyle Melinn

Lansing Township Supervisor candidate John Mitchell is crying "nepotism" this week after his opponent played a little last-minute, filing deadline switch-a-roo.

Kathy Rodgers, the township's treasurer for the past 20 years, filed for re-election May 2. Her son, Township Trustee Leo Rodgers, filed for re-election on the same date.

Moments before the 4 p.m. May 15 candidate filing deadline, Kathy Rodgers filed instead to run against Mitchell for  the Democratic nomination for supervisor. With nobody else filing to run for treasurer, Leo Rodgers put in for the spot.

Mitchell and Kathy Rodgers will now face off in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary. No Republican filed in either the supervisor of treasurer´s race. This gives Leo Rodgers a free ride to the treasurer´s job, barring a successful write-in, independent or third-party candidate.

There´s not illegal about this, but Mitchell said township residents are ticked off. Had residents known that the incumbent Rodgers wasn´t seeking re-election as treasurer, which actually pays a salary, others likely would have gotten into the mix.

But by waiting until the last minute to make her intentions known, Kathy Rodgers set up a dynamic where her son will succeed her for at least the next four years.

"(T)his has got to leave a bad taste in your mouth," Mitchell wrote. "This is a power play to make sure that the Rodgers family continue a hold on the township."

This drama is unfolding in the fragmented Lansing Township because Supervisor John Daher is calling it a career after 28 years, opening up his $65,000-a-year post. Mitchell, a trustee and former government contractor, immediately threw his name into the ring as Daher´s replacement.

Others, like Ingham County Commissioner Vic Celentino, thought about it, too, but didn´t declare. For months, Mitchell´s name was the only one out there.

Kathy Rodgers said she doesn´t see a difference between filing in January of May 15. Mitchell was quick with his intentions, but she said she hadn´t made up her mind.

For months, she said she agonized over whether to run for re-election, run for supervisor or retire. The May 15 filing deadline forced the issue. At 3:58 p.m., she filed to run for supervisor. Her son knew of her decision and opted to run for her current spot. She said she sees nothing wrong.

"If anyone wanted to run for the job, they should have run for the job," she said. "They had time to file with the clerk's office."

She said people simply aren´t all that interested in running for these local spots, she said. Kathy Rodgers served a term as a trustee before becoming treasurer. She said couldn´t remember more than three times, combined, when she´s had a challenge in either the Democratic primary or the general election.

"My decision is based on what I thought I could bring to the office," she said, citing her years of experience with the township´s planning, downtown development and drains process. "I´m running because I think I could do a good job, not based on running against someone."

Mitchell is already printing out fliers decrying the situation.

"My phone and email has been crazy with comments from voters," he said. "People just do not like nepotism."

Running to end the job

Here´s a switch: The Republican candidate for Ingham County register of deeds is campaigning for a post she hopes to eliminate if elected.

Kate Mortensen, a Cooley Law School student and recent Michigan State University graduate, is campaigning on the platform to merge the register of deeds with the county clerk´s position, as at least 30 other Michigan counties have done.

Mortensen argues the jobs are comparable. The state Constitution allows for a combination, and since the county is always looking to save some money, now is the time to look into it, she says.

Jackson County and Van Buren County both put the savings at about $50,000 a year when both counties considered merger last year. Jackson County went forward with it. Van Buren did not. 

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners would need to OK a merger. It likely would not become official until 2016, when a combined clerk/register of deeds post would be on the ballot. 

Members of Ingham County´s board quietly talked about a merger last year, but Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr., took a fire hose to such smoldering talk before it ever became serious.

If Mortensen becomes the first Republican to hold a countywide office since 1996, you can count on the Democratic majority on the board taking her request for a combined office very seriously. Mortensen has an uphill battle. Hertel beat his 2008 Republican opponent by about 38,000 votes — 65 to 35 percent.


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