Election 2020: Candidates for Eaton County Drain Commissioner in their own words

Lansing State Journal

Across Greater Lansing, voters have begun to cast ballots for the 2020 general election – absentee ballots are being sent out, with in-person voting to follow on Tuesday, November 3.

LSJ asked area candidates running for office to share their backgrounds, and answer a few questions on major topics to aid voters in their decision. Read excerpts from their answers below in their own words.

Richard Wagner | Republican (Incumbent)

Eaton County Drain Commissioner Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner grew up in Delta Township and currently resides there. He has been married for 35 years and has two adult children.Wagner has been the Eaton County Drain Commissioner for two terms. He has been certified by the DEQ as a Storm Water Operator and notes his experience in administering the State of Michigan Drain Code.

Wagner describes himself as an experienced leader and prides himself on having successfully maintained the Eaton County drains in a cost-efficient manner.

 "I have saved Eaton County taxpayers millions of dollars by refinancing drain bonds at much lower interest rates," Wagner said.

Branden Dyer | Democrat

Eaton County Drain Commissioner Candidate Branden Dyer

Branden Dyer has lived in Charlotte his whole life. He graduated from Olivet College with a degree in Accounting. Dyer currently serves on the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council as well as the VP of the Olivet College Alumni Association. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 5 years. Dyer also chairs the Charlotte Rising Economic Vitality Team. He has served the residents of Charlotte for nearly 6 years, winning election twice.

Candidates answer questions on major topics

What makes you more qualified than other candidates for this office?

Wagner: I have been the Eaton County Drain Commissioner for two terms (7-1/2 years). I have been certified by the DEQ as a Storm Water Operator and am experienced in administering the State of Michigan Drain Code. I am an experienced leader and have successfully maintained the Eaton County drains in a cost-efficient manner. I have saved Eaton County taxpayers millions of dollars by refinancing drain bonds at much lower interest rates. No other candidate has the experience or expertise to manage the Office of Drain Commissioner.

Dyer: Although young, I am experienced.  My six years on the Charlotte City Council provided me with valuable insight on how government works – more importantly, though, how it should work. I have spent much of my professional career serving others. I joined AmeriCorp after college and spent two years working on education and employment issues. I previously was treasurer for Eaton County United Way, prior to its merger with the Capital Area United Way. I have a passion for the environment and public service. I would bring this to the role of Drain Commissioner. 

What are the three most important issues facing the drain commissioner’s office and how would you address them? What would you do in your first month in office?

Wagner: The three most important issues are:

1) Road flooding – Will address by working with citizens and local government officials using the petition process required by the state drain code to improve and upgrade areas where road flooding has been a significant issue.

2) Road culvert failures – Work with the Eaton County Road Commission to identify and repair culvert failures to avoid home, farm field and road flooding.

3) Excessive runoff due to extreme weather/rain over past several years – We have identified the problem areas and first are cleaning brush and debris to improve drain flow.  Many of the drains were installed over 50 years ago and are undersized given development that has occurred over the years.  We are working to find cost effective solutions and/or upgrade those areas as funding permits.

In my first month I will continue to assess problem areas throughout the county and prioritize areas of need. I will seek input from landowners affected by drain problems.

Dyer: Fiscal responsibility is crucial. I will develop an asset management plan to ensure effective use of public dollars. It is easier to maintain than rebuild a drain. We are stewards of the land and water God granted us; I would put conservation at the top of the list when designing projects.

I would like to voice my concern over the project bid process. The current Drain Commissioner receives campaign donations from many with connections to businesses that receive millions of dollars in drain project contracts. If Branden Dyer is elected Drain Commissioner, the bid process will be open and fair.

What is the drain commissioner’s role in problem flooding areas in the county, where are they, and what will you/are you doing about them?

Wagner: The drain commissioner’s role in addressing problem flooding areas is to ensure public health and safety. Eaton County has several areas of concern. Those areas include:

1) Hart Highway near Creyts Road, a short segment of the road regularly floods due to the contour of the road construction. Citizen petitions were submitted and approved. Construction to begin in early July 2020 and should be completed within several weeks.

2) Columbia Highway at Canal Road, this intersection has had flooding issues for over 50 years due to poor road construction. The current drain was installed in 1883 (over 125 years ago).  Because of heavy rainfall the road was impassable for approximately 5 months.  Efforts were hampered by heavy rains, winter weather and freezing.  Extensive efforts were undertaken to drain the water which now has the roadway open again.  Drain district constituents submitted petitions for improvements and the Board of Determination will review the request on June 30, 2020.  If approved, bids to complete the project will commence.

Dyer: The Drain Commissioner’s office must move quickly and efficiently when flooding endangers people, property, or renders road travel hazardous. I would immediately work with emergency services to be sure potential hazards are communicated to residents through multiple outlets and roads are closed if needed. When developing projects to solve flooding, I will work with staff, the road commission and local governments to craft a plan that is affordable, assures public safety, and meets residents’ needs. The Canal and Columbia road crossing, as well as 5 Point Highway, will be among the top priorities to address flooding across roadways.

What are the roadblocks to getting problem flooding areas addressed?

Wagner: The problem flooding areas have primarily involved county roadways. These roads were designed and built over 50 years ago and constructed such that surface waters often flow over the roads during periods of heavy rainfall. The Eaton County Road Commission must take a more active role to improve and upgrade these roads to assure safe travel. The Office of Drain Commission is committed to working together to solve these problems.

Dyer: It is the responsibility of the drain office to educate residents on the project petition process. so they know how to request aid. As a Charlotte council member, I understand local government and commit to working with cities and townships to address issues within their jurisdiction. I will work with residents, the Road Commission, and state and federal departments to find opportunities to create affordable solutions to areas of concern across the county. The current commissioner too often states “nothing can be done without a petition.” As Drain Commissioner, I would listen, learn, and look for solutions not provide excuses. 

Systemic racism and police brutality are major concerns of mid-Michigan residents. As an elected official, what do you pledge to do to address problems in the community you want to serve?

Wagner: I pledge to treat all constituents equally.

Dyer: Under Branden Dyer, the Eaton County Drain Commissioner’s office will not tolerate discrimination, blatant or implied. I would explore a purchasing and bid policy that encourages minority- and women-owned businesses to apply for drain projects. I would work to expand diversity within my staff and explore how environmental justice programs could be implanted. Too many times the poor and minority communities are subject to pollution, the Flint water crisis is a strong example.

The above information was compiled from questionnaires emailed to each candidate. If you have questions about our process, email opinions@lsj.com. To support work like this, consider subscribing. For more information, visit LSJ.com/subscribe.