Berrien, Cass County commissioner candidates prepare for primaries

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Listed below are Q&As with county commissioner candidates from Berrien and Cass counties who are running for contested seats in Tuesday’s primary election. Included are only candidates who are running for the nomination of their party. Candidates for all open seats, and of separate political parties running against each other, will be offered the chance for a Q&A ahead of the November general election.

Berrien County

District 4 Commissioner Seat

Sharon Henderson, 48, of Benton Harbor is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 4. She is a Democratic candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I am running for the office of Berrien County Commissioner because the current leadership has failed to advocate for equity issues such as public safety, health, well-being and quality of life for people who live in District 4.

What do you hope to accomplish as Berrien County commissioner?

If elected, I hope to help find equitable solutions that impact the quality of life for those who live in District 4.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

I believe I am the most qualified for this role because I am engaged in the community, hardworking and understand the issues that affect my community. I have served eight years as a Benton Harbor City Commissioner, which has given me the experience with budgets and how local government operates.

Mamie L. Yarbrough, 78, of Benton Harbor, is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 4. She is a Democratic candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I am running for re-election. I am completing my 16th year as Berrien County Commissioner District 4. I am proud to represent my county. We have had many resignations and retirements this year from Berrien County, and I would like to continue to bring experience, history, encouragement and know-how to our group.

What do you hope to accomplish as Berrien County commissioner?

I hope to accomplish so much. Continue our sound fiscal management, work on keeping our assets in good condition and adding to them, ie: buildings, grounds, systems, etc. I want very much to increase our minority work force.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

I am the most qualified because of the experience, time, study and actual hands-on opportunities I have participated in. I am very aware of and encourage our partnerships with our cities, townships, villages, in Berrien County. We share ideas, people, systems, et al. to make this the best place to live, work and play.

District 5 Commissioner Seat

Bruce Gorenflo, 62, of St. Joseph, is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 5. He is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I have been considering a run for the Berrien County Commission for some time since I am now semi-retired from my career in the technical communications/graphic arts industry, and now have the time, energy and schedule flexibility to devote to attending commission meetings and committee meetings on Thursday mornings. I believe that my desire to serve my community along with my nearly lifetime residency in the district and familiarity with the issues unique to the fifth district make me ideally suited to serving on the commission. Throughout my life, I have sought to seek consensus and common ground with those I live and work with, and when I have served throughout my career, I have sought to do so with humility and a servant’s heart.

What do you hope to accomplish as Berrien County commissioner?

I believe that the two most important issues facing the Berrien County Commission are 1) continuing to manage the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (and the resulting economic, healthcare and social fallout) and 2) dealing with the relationship between law enforcement and the community while maintaining full funding/staffing and up-to-date training of our Berrien County Sheriff’s Office. I believe that I can contribute toward enhanced communication between county government and the community on both of these vital concerns. Uncertain funding because of COVID-19’s impact on tax revenues will make fiscal responsibility more important than ever.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

I believe that my longtime residency in the fifth district, my passion for the community, and my ability to bring those with diverse viewpoints together makes me the most qualified candidate for this position. My background in communications also will serve the commission well as we seek to improve both the transparency and the bond with the community we serve.

David Yardley, 56, of St. Joseph, is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 5. He is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I am running to improve Berrien County’s broadband internet access and to improve the county transportation system for maximum benefit for all citizens and businesses through innovation and technological advancement, and to work towards more affordable housing options for all residents.

What do you hope to accomplish as Berrien County commissioner?

As mentioned above, I would like to improve broadband, transportation and housing as part of overall economic development for all county residents. I also wish to help provide better communication to county residents about their board of commissioners and issues before the board and for better community knowledge and transparency. I believe we need to help educate the public on what the County does and does not do with their hard-earned tax dollars.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

[I am] a graduate of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University. [I have] has worked for the Michigan House of Representatives as a chief of staff and as director of special events and projects for the House Republican Caucus. [I] was the lead staff to the House Veteran’s Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. [I have] been active in business and political causes for more than 30 years and [have] provided legislative, business and political consulting through [my] business, Yardley’s Campaign Solutions. [I have] spent the last three years as director of marketing for Harbor Country Mission, a nonprofit that receives donations and redistributes items to our neighbors in need. As part of the management team, [I have] overseen their warehouse and their upscale resale store Vintage Finds-HCM. Because of his demographic knowledge, research skills and nonprofit background, [I] was recruited into the position of Census Field Supervisor to oversee enumerators performing direct contact with citizens for the 2020 Census in southwest Michigan.

District 6 Commissioner Seat

Chris Heugel, 54, of St. Joseph Township, is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 6. He is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I am running for re-election primarily because I love our community.  Serving on the board of commissioners is a great way to give back and be of service to the community. My greatest interests are with infrastructure and law enforcement. I want to continue the work that has been done to improve our infrastructure. I also want to continue to support our law enforcement by voicing the continued need for proper funding for law enforcement and protection of our community.

What do you hope to accomplish as a Berrien County commissioner?

I want to continue the successful work we have done to improve our roads and most importantly, as we are not certain of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will have, I want to make sure we are staying fiscally responsible by maintaining our current reserve fund balance to the best of our ability.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

What makes me the most qualified candidate is simple, experience. I have served two terms as a St. Joseph City Commissioner, and I am in my first term as a Berrien County Commissioner.  I have served as a board member, treasure and president and CEO of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber of Commerce. I have also served on and held leadership roles in many local boards including St. Joseph Today, St. Joseph Kiwanis Club, the Shadowland on Silver Beach Operating Committee, and the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen. I currently serve on county board’s Administration Committee, Berrien County Human Services Council, Community Corrections Advisory Board, and the Berrien County Public Safety Communications Center Operations Committee.

Julie Wuerfel, 57, of Royalton Township, is running for Berrien County commissioner, District 6. She is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Berrien County commissioner?

I began working with the county on my building project a few years ago. As I started to see how our local government was working, I felt there were gaps that business owners would never approve. As I began asking questions and tossing around the idea I was encouraged by several people to run. “We need more business people involved.” were among the comments made to me. As I began to join the commission YouTube meetings, I was surprised at how easy they would spend tax payers hard-earned money. This gave me more momentum as we all want our tax dollars spent wisely.

What do you hope to accomplish as Berrien County commissioner?

Berrien County needs more focus on economic development in our area (from small service businesses to large industrial). We need to balance the budget each year without reserves. We need to stick to our budget and not approve frivolous spending without cutting something else. We need to be transparent. With COVID-19 there are online meetings, but little discussion of what they are approving in a large consent agenda. These discussions are held in other meetings. But I think a synopsis of what they are approving and the pros and cons of such is not out of order for a public meeting. They are approving things with the people’s money, taxpayers deserve to know what it is being spent on.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

I understand this community well. I am a lifelong resident of Berrien County. I have owned my own businesses for the past 20 years which gives me the knowledge of balancing budgets, creating new revenue streams and what it means to make a payroll. My employees always come first. Of which, I was honored this spring as one of the top 20 places to work in Berrien County.

Cass County

District 1 Commissioner Seat

Ryan Laylin, 32, of Dowagiac, is running for Cass County commissioner, District 1. He is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Cass County commissioner?

I am running for county commissioner in my district to be the voice for the people who may not like to draw attention to themselves by speaking up.  I have seen many things change over time, some good, some bad. I believe that, in life, a person can sit back and complain about everything or they can do something to help change the things they don’t like or agree with.

What do you hope to accomplish as Cass County commissioner?

I hope to work with the rest of the board on issues presented and all of the tasks at hand. To keep Cass County a great place to live, work, and raise future generations.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

I have lived in this district my entire life. I have many family and friends that also live in the district. I’m going to make the best decisions based off how it affects every resident of the district.

Andrew C. Schilling, 62, of Sister Lakes, is running for Cass County commissioner, District 1. He is a Republican candidate.

Why are you running to represent your district as a Cass County commissioner?

I am running for commissioner mainly to be able to offer my service to my community. I have been asked to serve on various boards over the years and always felt I was too busy. As I approach my retirement, I’d like to do my part for my community. I feel it is everyone’s responsibility to do something at some time in their life.

What do you hope to accomplish as Cass County commissioner?

What I would hope to accomplish as a commissioner is to do my best to help guide our community through both trying times such as we are experiencing now and more normal prosperous times when we can move our county ahead in both service and safety for our residents.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?

As far as me being the most qualified for this position, without personal knowledge of my opponents’ abilities or views on the issues, I can’t say definitively I am the most qualified. But, I have lived in the area my entire life. My wife and I have raised our family and lived in the same house for 38 years, and I have successfully helped own and operate two family business in the area for the same 38 years. I would hope in that time I have acquired both some knowledge and common sense that would serve me well on this commission.

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