The Saginaw County Clerk Aug. 4th Primary Race Between Michael Hanley & Vanessa Guerra

Decision 2020 • CANDIDATE FORUM

Posted In: Politics, , Candidates,   From Issue 898   By: Robert E Martin

24th June, 2020     0

The Saginaw County Clerk’s office in many ways serves as the backbone of county government, responsible with supervising all national, state & local elections, along with administering Michigan’s Campaign Finance Reporting Act, as well as processing applications for passports, notary public, marriage licenses, birth & death certificates, military discharge orders, assumed name & co-partnership certificates, and handling all record collection and maintenance for the 10th Circuit Court, to name but a few of the administrative responsibilities involved with the office.

Incumbent  Michael Hanley has served as Saginaw’s County Clerk since 2016 and has an established legacy of experience.  He was elected to Saginaw City Council in 1987 and was re-elected in 1991; he served as mayor pro tempore from 1991–1993. In 1994; and subsequently, Hanley was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives and served as  Democratic leader from 1999–2000.  Hanley was elected to the Saginaw  Board of Commissioners in 2008, and became chairman of the board in 2013.

Hanley is facing an inter-party contest in the August 4th Primary race by Democratic challenger Vanessa Guerra, who is currently serving her third term representing Michigan’s 95thHouse District.  Guerra previously served on the House Law & Justice & Judiciary Committees and was the Democratic vice chair for the House Elections & Ethics Committee. 

REVIEW:  How has your background prepared and positioned you to effectively handle the duties & responsibilities of Saginaw County Clerk?

Hanley: The County Clerk is an executive, responsible for management, leadership and communication.  I have experience as a former Michigan House Democratic Leader, and as the President of UAW Local 699 from 2006/2009.  In these positions, I communicated to my staff and members that 1) we are each key to the success of the organization, 2) if we can devise ways to do our jobs in a fulfilling way, keeping the goal of ‘exceeding customer expectations” uppermost in our minds, then democracy at work can be accomplished.  I’ve been the CEO of this department since 2017, presiding over nine elections in that time.  Experience matters.

Guerra: During my time in the Michigan Legislature I have served as the Minority Vice Chair of the House Elections Committee. This committee has reviewed every piece of legislation that has impacted our electoral process and thus the Clerk’s office over the last four years. Additionally, I have served six years on the House Judiciary Committee where we have overseen nearly every piece of legislation that has impacted the circuit court system including the new “e-filing” system which will be implemented in Saginaw County in the coming years. 

REVIEW: What do you feel are the top priorities of the County Clerk's office and why do you think you are prepared to better implement and oversee these responsibilities than your opponent?

Guerra:  I believe the top priorities of the Clerk’s office should be to increase voter engagement & education in our county as well as to facilitate greater convenience & transparency to residents. In my current position I have focused heavily on civic engagement because I firmly believe we get out of government what we put into it; the more people who are voting and following the work of their elected officials, the better our elected officials serve us. As the chief election officer, no person is better suited and more responsible for that work than our County Clerk.

Hanley: The top priority of my office is “to exceed customers’ expectations”, whether the customer is 1) the general public, 2) the city and township clerks – our partners in elections, 3) the attorneys who depend on our circuit court records office, or 4) the Judges we serve. Part of meeting this goal long term is to use technology to be an effective custodian of these records.  An important problem that needs to be tackled very soon is conversion of microfilm to digital records before it decays and becomes impossible to convert.    

REVIEW:  How do you view the County Clerk's office evolving and changing over the next four years?

Hanley: We are in the process of migrating our IT department from a mainframe to the cloud.  The county has engaged the services of a leading provider of public sector software, Tyler Technologies.  The conversion will have many benefits.   As our vital records become more fully digitized and indexed, it will be possible for the public to request copies on-line for far lower cost than our current vendor charges.  The public will also be able to visit our office and order a record via a tablet.  A great savings on paper and ink will result.  Finally, the events of this year have shown the future is uncertain.

Guerra: If elected I will elevate the role the County Clerk plays in our community. The Clerk’s office will serve as a one-stop-shop not only for the traditional clerk services, but additionally I will expand the office to operate as the county’s public awareness advocate. Our county employees and county commission are engaged in important work every day and deserve recognition of all that county government can and does provide for the people of Saginaw County. The pandemic only highlighted the need to have a single office focused on educating the public during times of crisis and calm. 

REVIEW:  What are your top goals for improving the office of County Clerk and what are the biggest challenges the position faces over the next four years?

Guerra: My top goals are to increase voter education & engagement. We all pay taxes and we all deserve a government office that seeks to be innovative and efficient at every turn. By hosting a citizens academy folks can come in and learn more about the electoral and democratic processes here in our county. This program would in turn create a pool of election day workers for our local clerks as well as assuage any fears of election insecurity that people may have about our voting process. Naturally, every county office will face budget pressures as we adjust to the aftermath of the global pandemic.

Hanley: We’ve got a great staff right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them retire and others move on to the private sector over the next several years. Attraction and retention of talent is critical.  Approximately 600 state laws govern our office – there’s always much to learn.  The County’s administration is projecting a four million dollar deficit in the 2021 budget. We in government talk about mandated versus discretionary services.  Virtually everything we do in our office is mandated - required by law.  The ongoing challenge is to do more with less.    

REVIEW:  Leadership ability is often measured by the ability to put together a good team. Explain your ability at cultivating team building and what changes you have made, or would make in personnel, at the county clerk's office if elected.  

Hanley: There are 15 people in my office plus me.  Eight including their supervisor are in the Circuit Court Records Division. Seven including my Chief Deputy are in “Vital Records” office where we do so much more than birth, marriage and death records.   I’m very proud of the work ethic of each and every member of my staff, and the culture we’ve built together.  I’ve surveyed staff on their feeling about the culture and we’re not perfect, but the strong majority sentiment is that the co-workers are there for each other and that management is trusted and truly care for the well-being of all.

Guerra: If elected I will spend my first 100 days learning the jobs of every person in the Clerk’s office. At any given time, the County Clerk should be prepared to jump in and fill a position if someone is off that day. The employees currently working at the Saginaw County Clerk’s office are experienced and dedicated, and I have no intentions of replacing any of them. I hope to work alongside the staff and elevate their expertise by creating a culture where they are free to suggest changes to “the way things have always been done,” rather than overriding them.

REVIEW: Feel free to add any additional comments on any topic that I may not have touched upon.

Guerra: If elected I will become a nationally Certified Elections Registration Administrator (CERA) within my first term in office. Nothing is more important than the security and administration of our electoral process; Saginaw County deserves a leader dedicated to learning and implementing the most up to date election security information available.

Hanley: I believe we’re all put on this Earth to HELP.   A couple of years ago, when I was the Chair of the Board, I got a call from a person who said “I can’t find a Doctor”.  I didn’t say it wasn’t my job to find them a Doctor.  I found them a Doctor.  I’m still passionate about community/economic development.  I’m Chair of the Saginaw CountyEconomic Development Commission, a member of the City of Saginaw Economic Development Commission, Vice Chair of the Downtown Development Authority and the founding facilitator of the Riverfront Saginaw group.  My cell is 798-3903.  I’m here for you.





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