Three interviewed for Road Commission

Published 6:04 am Friday, January 9, 2009

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – A road builder, a Michigan Department of Transportation employee and a former commissioner stand between 18-year incumbent Clifford E. Poehlman and a new six-year appointment to the Cass County Road Commission.
Cass County commissioners interviewed Poehlman, James A. Klett and Robert Locke Thursday night.
A fourth candidate, former commissioner Alan Northrop of Marcellus, had to be in Indianapolis, so the appointment will be made at the next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 after commissioners quiz their former colleague.
Locke, of 20361 Kelsey Lake St., Cassopolis, has been performing road maintenance for MDOT for seven years after eight years with the Road Commission.
"I have skills and experience pertaining to road maintenance that would be valuable to the Road Commission," Locke stated. "Through my ground-level experience, I have fresh ideas that could possibly save the Road Commission money. I know what works and what doesn't. I feel I could be an asset to the county."
For example, Locke said the Road Commission uses six expensive graders to tend gravel roads, where St. Joseph County relies on trucks.
Locke said Road Commission employees' low morale is improving with the decision to move Superintendent Rick Janssen into Joseph Bellina's manager position. "Morale was way down," Locke said, but Janssen "knows a lot and they respect him."
Poehlman, of 28003 M-60 West, Cassopolis, owns and operates Poehlman and Sons Marl and Lime Spreading Services and 1,700-acre Poehlman Farms with two sons.
"Since the Road Commission has not had an increase in finances for 12 years, I believe I can help them get through this budget crunch better than anyone else," Poehlman stated. "I thought about retiring … I guess the reason I want to run again is that our board members asked me to remain and our former manager asked me to stay. I know the workings of that place about as well as anyone. We've got a hard way to go with the funds we've got. We don't always see eye to eye, but I want to thank the commissioners for giving us two members" a year ago in expanding the Road Commission from three to five members with the addition of Louis Csokasy and new Chairman LeRoy Krempec of Mason Township.
"They made us look around and give us a lot of things to think about," Poehlman said. "They fired us up and we're moving faster on cutting things. We've leaned ourselves down about as well as we can. We're a heck of a lot better off than a lot of counties I know of even in the shape we're in now. I don't see any way out of this without a funding increase. We're bound by a union contract which slows (budget-cutting), but we are working on a number of things to make ourselves more efficient, but there's a limit on how far you can trim. I think we've slimmed ourselves down pretty well. I've got a track record here of 18 years and apparently haven't done what everyone thinks I should or I wouldn't be standing here tonight in front of you."
Klett, of 50850 Cable Park Road, Dowagiac, owned and operated 125-employee Klett Construction for more than 30 years in all aspects of road construction and maintenance, "working with a wide variety of people. Working with people is a better way to get things done than being adversarial. That's one of my attributes."
Klett said he has always had the "highest regards" for the Road Commission and "feel I could offer a positive perspective in a board member's position."
Klett has lived in Cass County for 48 years, including 28 in Silver Creek Township. He grew up as the third generation of a family-owned asphalt paving business and dealt with three unions.
Klett is past president of the asphalt paving association and the Michigan Road Builders Association and, currently, a director for the National Asphalt Paving Association. He served nine months appointed by the governor to the task force working on the needs study for highway funding sent to the Legislature just before the election.
"Through the years, the Road Commission has done a phenomenal job," Klett said. "We've worked in many counties in Michigan and they're probably one of the best-managed and operated. I personally do not contract with the county."