Edwardsburg man inducted into Cass County Road Commission

Published 2:33 pm Thursday, October 22, 2015

While a new face to the Cass County Road Commission, Edwardsburg’s Robert Thompson is hardly a newbie when it comes to the process of building and maintaining local roadways.

During his 12-year tenure as the supervisor of Kalamazoo County’s Schoolcraft Township, Thompson worked alongside the county road commission to oversee the paving of every single road inside the township, he said.

“It was a really neat accomplishment,” Thompson said. “The public by and large received it very well.”

That experience will serve the longtime public servant well in his recent appointment to the Cass County Road Commission, where he joins as the fifth commissioner.

The Edwardsburg man was selected to serve as commissioner last week, after a unanimous decision from the seven members of the Cass County Board of Commissioners. Thompson’s appointment fills the vacancy left by Cassopolis’ Kevin Hershberger, who resigned from his position last month; Thompson will serve out the remaining five years left on Hershberger’s six-year term.

While raised on southeast portion of the state, outside of Adrian, Thompson draws his roots from Cass County, as his grandparents were longtime farmers in Edwardsburg.

While his parents both worked in education, Thompson followed in the footsteps of his grandparents, attending a two-year agriculture technology program at the Michigan State University, where he graduated in 1978. He then moved to Vicksburg, where he worked as a farmer for 28 years.

It was during that time that he fell into public service, first serving on school-ag committee with the Vicksburg Community School district before becoming a member of its school board for eight years.

Thompson later became involved with the leadership of Schoolcraft Township, serving as the chair of the zoning board of appeals and on the planning commission before he was elected as township supervisor in 1992, he said.

“I just enjoy helping people with whatever their needs are, coming up with solutions to their challenges,” Thompson said about his public service career. “It’s satisfying.”

In 2010, Thompson decided to move into his grandparents’ old home in Edwardsburg, working as a bus driver with Edwardsburg Public Schools before becoming a fuel-delivery driver with Crystal Flash this past summer, he said.

The Edwardsburg resident first became interested in serving on the local road commission last winter, applying as a commissioner when the county board was searching for a replacement for the retiring Cliff Poehlman. Thompson was one of two candidates who received votes from the board for the position, losing out in a 4-3 decision to Hershberger.

Thompson recognizes several problems facing the management of county’s roadways, most prominently of which diminishing funding for local road commissions across the entire state, he said. In light of these problems, sharing information about the tasks and priorities the commission faces with the public is as important as ever, he said.

“The commission has done a good job with that in the past and we need to keep that up,” he said. “Good things happen when you communicate.”

Despite coming into the role with a considerable body of knowledge about local government and road maintenance, Thompson said his first priority is sit back and listen to the rest of the commissioners, and to get up to speed on the short and long-term challenges the agency faces.

“I’m there to add to the discussion, to help make the best decision possible and see that policy carried out at the management level,” he said.