Mixed ballot for Benton Township trustee race

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — It’s a crowded race for Benton Township’s Board of Trustees this year.

Among the field are six Democrats – Carolyn Fowler, Augustine Hill, Rosie McCoy-Hudson, Bette Pierman, Linda Scarbrough and Cathy Yates – and four Republicans: Eric Culby, Emily Curry, Christian Nearpass and Patience VanLandingham. The diverse field of candidates could shake things up on a board that is predominantly Democratic.

Fowler, McCoy-Hudson and Yates have served on the board for more than one term. There will be at least one new face on the board in 2017 as the newest trustee, Calli Berg, is running for the Berrien County Board of Commissioners.

All four Republican candidates will move onto the general election, while four of the six Democrats will run for their party in November. Each trustee seat is a four-year term that ends in 2020.

Here’s a closer look at the candidates in alphabetical order:

Eric Culby, 36, is a Republican who works for a family business in landscaping.

With a degree in business administration from Western Michigan University, this is the first time Culby is running for office.

“I’m doing this to try to make a change,” Culby said. “I was asked to run by several people. I thought I would be able to do a good job, so I want to see if I can make a difference over there.”

Emily Curry, 26, is a stay-at-home mother who has one child and one on the way with her husband, Timothy.

The Republican candidate has a degree in business administration from Siena Heights University.

Carolyn Fowler, 79, is retired and has a late husband, a son who died and a grown daughter.

The incumbent Democrat was a tax preparer for 40 years, where she owned an H&R Block office. Fowler has been a trustee for 16 years and serves on Benton Township’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

“I think we have a good board that is doing a good job up here now,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of good things. (Comptroller) Kelli (Nelson) and (Superintendent) Elden (Piontek) are good at what they do, so I hope the whole board is re-elected and we can continue our progress.”

Augustine Hill, 67, is an employee at the Best Western Hotel and has two grown sons with her late husband.

The Democrat is a notary who attended Lake Michigan College.

Hill said she decided to run in an effort to change what goes on at board meetings.

“From what I’ve heard from other citizens in Benton Township, they don’t feel like they have a voice,” Hill said. “I’ve been told they tried to voice their complaints and they weren’t listened to, they weren’t heard. Maybe that’s because the people serving on the board have become too comfortable. I intend to change that.”

Rosie McCoy-Hudson, 80, is retired and has five grown children with her husband, Edward.

The Democrat has been a trustee for 35 years and attended Lake Michigan College.

McCoy-Hudson is on the township’s Housing Commission, the Senior Citizen Board of Directors, the Senior Nutrition Board for the township, is a member of the Dial A Ride Committee and was on the township’s Planning Commission.

“I think I can finish what we’ve started,” she said. “We’re doing a good job in the township so far. We got the water department there, we’re getting new stores and new recreations. I’ve lived in this community my whole life.”

Christian Nearpass, 77, is a flight instructor who has three grown children with his wife, Diane.

The Republican candidate serves as the building inspector for Eau Claire and was the president of the Taildraggers Flying Club. Nearpass said he has the experience to represent the township.

“I want to make sure everybody is treated the same,” Nearpass said. “I wanted to do something to help the community. There’s probably not anything they’re gonna go through that I haven’t seen.”

Bette Pierman, 66, is a retired school teacher who earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Western Michigan University, and has done graduate course work in communications information systems at Ferris State University.

The Democrat is an acting chair of Michigan Safe Energy Future, vice president of the Two Rivers Coalition, board member of the League of Women Voters in Berrien and Cass County, was appointed to the Solid Waste Committee by the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, served as secretary for the Michigan Democratic Party 6th District and was secretary for the Berrien County Democratic Party.

If elected, Pierman said she wants to work with small businesses and would consult with them on township matters.

“I’ve worked with a lot of organizations in the community, including the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission on various projects around Berrien County and Benton Township,” Pierman said. “I think I bring a lot of experience working with the community and I have knowledge of different sources of grants where we will be able to promote the township better than what it is.”

Linda Scarbrough, 71, owns a grocery store in Millburg and has a grown son with her late husband.

The Democrat was the Benton Township treasurer for four years, and serves on the township’s Board of Review and Planning Commission.

“I want to stay active and do what I can to promote Benton Township,” Scarbrough said in relation to running for the Board of Trustees. “I’ve been active in the township since before 2000. Before I was elected treasurer, I was still active with the township.”

Patience VanLandingham, 40, is a financial analyst who has a daughter and stepson with her husband, Jon.

The Republican candidate has a bachelors in business for accounting from Siena Heights University and an MBA from Indiana Tech University.

VanLandingham serves on the Accounting Advisory Committee at Lake Michigan College.

“My goal is to offer whatever experience I have to the community,” VanLandingham said. “I have skill sets that could be utilized. I also believe that change is good. It’s good to get others involved with a fresh approach.”

Cathy Yates, 66, is retired and has two sons with her husband, James.

In addition to her role on the township’s Board of Trustees, the incumbent Democrat is on the Lake Michigan College alumni board, the Christian Education Board for the Second Baptist Church in Benton Township, and was a member of the Untied Way Board and the Child and Family Services Board.

Yates has a bachelor of arts degree in family life from Spring Arbor University, a masters in organizational leadership from Siena Heights University. She got her associate’s degree from LMC and was working on a masters at Andrews University, but did not complete it.

“My reasons for being on the board are to help those who don’t have the proper resources and to make sure people are treated fairly,” Yates said. “I serve all the people. If re-elected, I would like to continue to work with the people.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 31, 2016)

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