In Meridian Township, incumbent Clerk Brett Dreyfus is facing a challenger for the Democratic nomination, Deborah Guthrie, the township’s former director of communications. She faces a tough battle against Dreyfus, who has served as clerk for eight years now. In 2016, Dreyfus received more votes than any other candidate for local office in Meridian Township.
Guthrie, 48, went to Lansing Community College and then transferred to Michigan State University, graduating from the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. She started out as an intern for Meridian Township in 1996 before moving to ESPN in 1997. Since successfully interviewing for a managerial position with Meridian Township in April 1998, she continued to work in local government until she resigned last December.
“Keep in mind, I was a single mom with two kids. I was ecstatic to get that position. I really wanted to be home with my kids,” said Guthrie. She eventually worked her way up from a production manager at HOMTV to communications director.
Guthrie claimed that her experience working with the township has prepared her for the job. “The township clerk is a department manager. They oversee staff,” said Guthrie. “I oversaw the most diverse staff in the township for 20-plus years.” Guthrie also said she has extensive experience with recruiting, training and mentoring students.
“I am the only one running with this amount of experience,” she said.
Years of working within local government has given her a strong understanding of interdepartmental government workings, Guthrie said. She worked with the East Lansing City Clerk last fall and worked with the Lansing city clerk this year. Guthrie said a former East Lansing city clerk, Marie Wicks, and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum have endorsed her.
“Being a positive ambassador for the township is important to me,” said Guthrie. “I will conduct myself in a civil manner.”
Guthrie said that her first priority in office would be to administer elections according to state law. First, she said she would work with the secretary of state to do a full audit of the clerk’s office election protocols. That, she said, would help organize and streamline the voting process to ensure the integrity of Meridian Township’s elections.
“The current clerk is getting paid full time and showing up part time,” said Guthrie. “I will treat people with respect and listen to them.” Her personal phone number is on her campaign website, and she claimed that she has no intention of changing it. “We have an incredible, diverse community. We need someone in the Clerk’s Office who understands that.”
Dreyfus’s response to the idea that he is paid full time to show up part time: “That’s a myth perpetuated by my political opponents,” he said. “Typically, I work from 10 to 6.
“My office is renowned for great customer service. This is a political agenda directed against me. This is a longstanding public relations campaign on behalf of my political opponents to paint an inaccurate picture of me and my image in the community.” Dreyfus said that the number of votes he’s received over the years proves that he has public approval and support.
Dreyfus graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in political science. He was a director for several nonprofit organizations, primarily focused on helping people with disabilities. He also worked as a communications and marketing manager for a technology firm.
For 25 years now, Dreyfus has lived in Meridian Township. He started working at the township at the planning commission in 1999. Then, he spent a few years on the zoning board of appeals. After that, he was elected as a trustee. In 2012, Dreyfus became the first Democrat elected as clerk in over 50 years.
Preserving Meridian Township’s quality of life is Dreyfus’ main priority, he said. “I will get what I call true community sustainability. That means smart land use planning,” Dreyfus explained. “Being very careful about doing zoning changes and about doing special use permits. And making sure that, whenever there’s an increase in density, we protect the environment.”
Dreyfus said that he is a strong advocate of green space protection and protecting Meridian Township’s natural features, including wetlands, flood plains and its wooded areas. He said that it is important to balance commercial development with preserving the community’s natural beauty.
Besides that, Dreyfus emphasized that he is — like Guthrie — a proponent of safe and transparent elections. He said he has managed 16 elections as clerk. Dreyfus said that he has always advocated for absentee ballots. He also said that he helped the township get all new election equipment.
“In 2018, I ensured that Meridian was fully compliant with all aspects of voter registration up through election day at 8 p.m.,” he claimed. “No-reason absentee voting, changing all the forms, making sure we had expanded hours. I also kicked off numerous voter registration drives for students and the elderly.”
Dreyfus said that he is concerned that other board members and people working in the township don’t engage in full transparency for various reasons: for political reasons, to protect the image of the administration, to protect the image of board members.
“We don’t always reveal issues and problems that need to be discussed, such as losses against the township,” said Dreyfus. “In my role, I work as a watchdog. I safeguard the Open Meetings Act as well as handling Freedom of Information Act requests.”
Experience is what differentiates him from his opponent, said Dreyfus. As the incumbent, he feels much more qualified for the position. “I’ve been involved in all aspects of township government,” said Dreyfus. “My opponent has mainly worked in the TV studio.”
Dreyfus said that he has worked on basically any problem that affects his constituents. “From land use to roads, public safety, election management, taxes and millages. All that stuff is in my toolkit,” he said.