Four incumbents are facing off against three newcomers in next Tuesday’s primary election for four positions on the Meridian Township Board of Trustees. All are Democrats, marking the further slide of the GOP in the township, where four years ago, it was able to field three candidates.
The elephant in the room is the COVID-19 crisis. Projects are stalled and residents and small businesses need relief. One thing is for sure: these candidates know that COVID-19 will be on most voters’ minds when they cast their ballots.
Patricia Herring Jackson, 56, is seeking her second term. She is a grandmother who has lived at the same address in Okemos since 1987. She earned a B.S. from Bennett College for Women and a PhD in biochemical pharmacology from Mehary Medical College. She worked various roles in the township government since 2000.
Jackson cited her experience on the board producing and managing budgets. Jackson said she wants to focus on stabilizing and supporting projects that took a hit after the COVID-19 crisis began. She also promised to help maintain the township workforce — including public health and safety workers — now that the township is projecting reduced revenue and slowed economic activity.
Jackson also said that she supports expanding broadband access, updating local infrastructure and creating a more environmentally sustainable community.
To foster a more equitable community, Jackson said that she plans to bring community residents together so they can get to know each other. “Together, we can participate in making ‘ONE MERIDIAN’ more like we want it to become, from a diverse and welcoming community to one that is more inclusive and equitable for all involved,” she said.
Jackson noted, “I believe I am a careful listener and always a student, first.”
The Lansing Regional Chamber PAC and IBEW Local 665 endorsed Jackson’s candidacy.
Dan Opsommer, 32, is seeking a second term. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from MSU. e served as State Rep. Julie Brixie’s chief of staff. Opsommer said that he is running again because — in these difficult times — the community needs a sense of consistency. “If elected, I will roll up my sleeves and work to continuously improve our quality of life. You have my word,” he promised.
In 2019, Opsommer worked to get voter approval for a project that would fund 147 miles of road in Meridian Township. After the COVID-19 outbreak, he assisted in efforts to spread relief through the community, including a COVID crisis hotline, small business grants and programs like Meridian Cares.
Opsommer said that one of his top priorities is protecting neighborhoods from encroaching development. He also said that he wants Meridian Township to use 100% renewable energy, hopefully by 2030. In addition, Opsommer also claimed to be in the process of drafting a thorough tree protection ordinance.
Kathy Ann Sundland is seeking a second term. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Sundland has a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Michigan State University and worked in HR with the State of Michigan for 26 years. “I feel like that makes me a very qualified candidate,” she said.
Sundland emphasized that her top priority is promoting sustained growth within her community.
“We need to do it in a careful, thoughtful manner,” she said. According to Sundland, this means focusing on sound land use and continued infrastructure development.
Courtney Wisinski, 44, was appointed to fill a board vacancy last year. She has lived in Meridian Township for 17 years and has two kids enrolled in Okemos Schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in natural science from MSU and a master’s in public health management from Creighton University.
Wisinski became involved in the community through coaching and extracurricular activities. She also took a position on the township’s park commission in 2017 and began leading an equity and inclusion taskforce this year.
Wisinski decided to run for trustee this time around to utilize her background in environmental science and public health management to “contribute to her community.”
“I’ve gotten used to local government, and I feel confident enough to run now,” said Wisinski. She said that her main priority is continuing unfinished projects from the last four years, including the road millage and redevelopment projects in Okemos and Haslett.
Mary Waller has withdrawn.
John Esser, 72, has lived in Meridian Township for 33 years. He graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s in economics. Then, he worked in Michigan’s Office of Insurance and Financial Services for almost 25 years.reviewing insurance/health products and how they were marketed in Michigan.
Esser became interested in the position after spending nine years with his neighborhood watch. Esser’s work with them — combined with the onset of COVID-19 and the economic difficulties it created — motivated him to jump in the race.
Esser said that his top priorities are equality and diversity, improved communication with the community and environmental sustainability. He proposed adding lessons about equality and sustainability to the curriculum in local schools, in addition to diversity training for government employees, local business and the community.
“We are living in uncertain times,” said Esser. “We need new voices on the Meridian Township board, so that important decisions that will affect current and future residents are made only after a fact-based review of the information, and the input of all the interested parties is considered.”
Mike Kieliszewski, 44, has lived in Meridian Township his entire life. He graduated from Okemos High School, then MSU. As a lifelong resident, he claimed that he has a unique understanding of local politics and the way that they affect his family, quality of life, and the broader community.
Kieliszewski asserted that the local government needs more citizen input and more transparency. According to him, without transparency, taxpayer money ends up going to projects that they don’t want or need.
Kieliszewski said that his top priority is managing and recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
“That’s priority 1, 2 and 3 to me. Doing this in a way that’s safe and responsible and puts value in human life,” he said. “As this global COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting, we are all in this together and those of us with the means and ability to assist others have a duty to do so.”
“My experience and my skills can help out a few of those projects, when it comes to environmental contamination happening in downtown Okemos and Haslett,” she explained. “As well as our current doomsday situation. We have to make sure our entire community’s healthy by all means.”
James D. Salehi did not respond to requests for comment, nor does he have a campaign website with his stated positions.