LAPEER COUNTY — Incumbent Lapeer County Drain Commissioner Joe Suma is being challenged in the Aug. 4 Republican primary election by veteran Lapeer County Board of Commissioners member Ian Kempf.
Suma, a former road commissioner who has been Lapeer County’s Drain Commissioner since 2012, says he wants to continue doing all he can to maintain and improve the county’s 261 drains—52 which are intercounty— and six dams.
“My job as drain commissioner is to get the work done,” he said, “and that work’s been getting done. Of course, there’s always more work to do.”
Suma said that during his tenure as drain commissioner, his department has completed 280 miles of drain work, including about 500 miles of open ditch and 38 miles of tile.
He added that his department is also responsible for the county’s dams, whose conditions have been improved during the past eight years.
Suma pointed out that that those projects and upgrades have been accomplished without having the assistance of a deputy.
“Not having a deputy has resulted in a half-million dollars in savings for the county over the past eight years,” Suma said. “I have enjoyed and benefitted from this job, but I’ve worked hard and have given a lot of myself. It’s been a lot of long and late hours.”
While plenty of work remains, Suma said getting the money to complete projects is a constant challenge, and possibly more so in the immediate future due to the pandemic.
On the plus side, Suma noted that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) had already committed $125,000 toward a drain project in Fostoria.
“We’re looking at the Marshall Drain in Almont,” he said. “Also, we just took bids for work on the Peasley Drain at M-21. We have a contractor for that job, but still need to find the money to do it.”
Suma admitted that funding is nearly always an issue when it comes to upgrading the county’s drains.
“Some of these projects need to be done soon,” he said. “They can’t wait too much longer because they’re only going to get worse.”
Suma pointed out that he no longer has an in-house work crew, but said local contractors have been doing a good job at reasonable costs to the county.
“This is a full-time job,” said Suma, “and requires a full-time person doing it.
“I’m proud of the job we have done,” he continued. “I feel a lot has been accomplished since I’ve been here. I would encourage everyone to talk to our local farmers and ask them about the job I’ve been doing.”
“If re-elected, I’ll continue to do my very best to keep our drains maintained and serviceable.”
Suma’s challenger, Ian Kempf, says he became interested in the condition of Lapeer County’s drains about 20 years ago, when first elected to the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners.
Now he wants the full-time job of overseeing the county’s drains and dams as Lapeer County’s Drain Commissioner.
For more than two decades, Kempf has served as the Fair Manager for the Eastern Michigan State Fair.
In addition to his two decades of service as a county commissioner, he is the co-owner/operator of Kempf’s Imlay City Florist.
Kempf says his experience as a county commissioner has greatly expanded his knowledge base of the needs and priorities of Lapeer County residents.
As a result, he has decided to shift his personal priorities to the county’s drain office.
“My goal as drain commissioner will be to ensure that all residents receive the highest level of service for their tax dollars,” Kempf said. “That means keeping a close eye on the budget and finding ways to save money.”
Kempf said he favors the return of in-house employees as a cost savings and assurance that all immediate and emergency needs are met as expeditiously as possible.
“An in-house staff can respond more quickly to emergency situations and immediate needs,” said Kempf. “If there’s a severe storm with trees and limbs coming down and blocking up drains, it is advantageous to have a crew available to quickly remedy that situation, rather than to contract that work out.
“I want to know that the money dedicated to the drain commission is being used appropriately and spent efficiently,” Kempf said.
To that point, Kempf has been critical of Suma’s keeping a $250,000 excavator purchased in 2014, held in reserve as a ‘backup.’
“That piece of equipment is sitting there with a dead battery,” Kempf said. “That is a waste of county resources.”
If elected, Kempf said he will focus on modernizing the department’s technology and work directly with local communities to manage the county’s drains.
He added that protecting the county’s natural resources would be another of his priorities.
“I am a strong steward of the environment,” said Kempf. “I would work with other organizations to achieve best practices for better water quality.”
Because there is no Democratic candidate competing for the drain commission position, the Aug. 4 primary winner will automatically assume the duties of drain commissioner for the next four years, starting in 2021, through 2024.
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.