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3 seek GT seat following Wheelock's retirement

The Record-Eagle - 7/31/2020

Jul. 31--TRAVERSE CITY -- Two military veterans and the owner of a popular dance studio seek to represent District 4 on the Grand Traverse County Board in a contested Republican primary race.

"When Sonny decided to retire, and at the same time my business was curtailed by COVID, it seemed like a good time to run," said Penny Morris, 53, the owner of Crystal Bindi Studios and a newcomer to politics.

Addison "Sonny" Wheelock, Jr., who has represented the district for more than two decades, announced his retirement earlier this year. He said Wednesday he has not endorsed a candidate.

Also running are Hal Gurian and Todd Knipe, who each served in the military -- Gurian for six years of active duty and reserves in the Army and Knipe for four years in the Navy.

Gurian, 81, who owned several Maryland-based Hallmark greeting card stores before he retired, more recently volunteered with Michigan's Voters Not Politicians, the non-partisan group behind Proposal 2, which created the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

That experience increased Gurian's lifelong interest in politics, he said, and like Morris, when Wheelock retired, Gurian, the married father of two, said he decided to run for the seat.

"What's very, very important is paying back the pension debt," Gurian said. "We're only 52 or 53 percent funded, that was ignored by the board for a while and it should be our priority to pay it back without raising taxes."

How the board will deal with funding shortfalls because of COVID-19 and a board ethics policy should also be prioritized, he said.

"The county will get less from the state so we'll have various choices to make and raising taxes would be horrible," Gurian said. "We're going to have to cut. Some things you can't cut and some things are flexible and in January the incoming board will inherit that and we're going to have to deal with it."

Financing a new jail with a bond issue and collaborating with Housing North, business leaders and area townships to build workplace housing are two additional projects Gurian highlighted as important.

"Any issue is complicated," he said. "People often look for easy answers but nothing is easy."

Knipe, 52, said the need for sustainable career-level jobs in the community is his number one issue.

The married father of two said many of the area's challenges, such as a need for more affordable housing, could be solved by bringing in more high-paying jobs.

"The fact that my kids growing up right now and talk about leaving really hit home," Knipe said. "I sacrificed a lot in order to stay here and I did that because of my love for the area. I would really desire that they have that opportunity too."

Knipe spent years traveling 30 to 45 weeks of the year as head of project management for company that installed emergency communications systems for senior communities. For the past 18 months his job transitioned to one where he stays home and has the time to devote to the board, he said.

He said he'd like to see less drama and strife on the board and more support for veterans.

Knipe said he is active in conservation groups such as the Quality Deer Management Association and Michigan Conservation Clubs and helped form a cooperative of landowners in Antrim County where he has access to hunting property.

For Morris it was a family tragedy -- the 2004 death of her teenage daughter, Adrian, as the result of a car crash -- she said inspires her to give back to the community.

"When Adrian died, this community showed itself for what it was," Morris said. "They wrapped their arms around us and gave us hope."

Since then Morris said she has volunteered at Michael's House, worked with Traverse City West Senior High School to establish a scholarship in Adrian's name, served on nonprofit boards and volunteered at the Women's Resource Center.

Morris, a married mother of 3, learned the driver of the other vehicle in the crash had dozens of moving violations, and said communication between agencies and the funding of law enforcement would be one of her priorities if elected.

"It planted a seed that I needed to do something," she said. "I support growth, but growth with the right infrastructure and there is at least one intersection in District 4 that needs addressing, so another family doesn't go through what we did."

The North Long Lake Road, East Long Lake Road and Strait Road intersection is problematic, she said.

Morris said her business is still thriving, she looks forward to returning to a full schedule when conditions allow and that good management of county and township parks, such as Twin Lakes, are also on her list of priorities.

The primary vote is Aug. 4. For more election stories see


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