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District 2 up for grabs in PI

November 1, 2012
Jordan Travis - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Voters in Presque Isle County's second district will decide whether to keep their incumbent commissioner, or elect a challenger promising new ideas.

Democratic candidate Dennis Downie of Rogers Township is running to unseat incumbent Republican Kris Sorgenfrei. His main goal is to bring new ideas to the board of commissioners and redouble efforts on building tourism. Sorgenfrei wants to draw on her two terms of experience to continue working on projects to improve the county.

Sorgenfrei is resident of Ocqueoc Township and a community member for more than 50 years. Nearly half of those were spent working with the Michigan State University Extension, first as a home economist and then focusing on tourism and community development at the end of her career. She also was involved in public policy training.

"I do live in about the middle of the county, and I think that's a plus, because I do know some of the concerns that people have here in the farm community, and out in the smaller population centers."

Downie is more of a newcomer, something he sees as an asset, he said. He's lived in Rogers Township, moving into the area in 2004.

"I think we look at things with different perspectives," he said. "I think that's necessary, and I think I have the ability to do that."

Downie has served as president for the Rogers City Lions Club for three years, and served a past term as president of the Rogers City Area Chamber of Commerce. From 2004 to April 2012, he served as a key postmaster in Rogers City.

Now in her second term as commissioner, Sorgenfrei's also served on the Communities First Fund with Presque Isle Electric and Gas Co-op, as a member of the Huron Pines Board and a charter member of the Rogers City Zonta Club, she said.

Both candidates want to boost tourism. Sorgenfrei mentioned the recently completed trailhead for the North East State Trail, accessibility improvements at Ocqueoc Falls and other attractions that complement a unique part of the state, adding commissioners need to keep building on what the county has to offer.

"Some of the attractions in this county are looking as good as anywhere in this country," she said.

As the chairman of the Nautical Festival, Downie said he believes he has the marketing abilities to promote the county's resources. Among them is the Ocqueoc Outdoor Center, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp now owned by the county. While he praised his opponent's work with the camp, he would work harder to promote it.

Downie also would work on "being more hands-on" with the county's chambers of commerce in Rogers City, Onaway and Posen.

"I think (commissioners) kind of distance themselves from it," he said. "I don't know why, but I think they need more of a working relationship with them."

Downie and Sorgenfrei agree that a new county courthouse is needed, and want to inform the public about such a project. Among the county's options are some that wouldn't require voter approval, and Sorgenfrei said she thinks county residents would feel more enfranchised if commissioners explained the project, vote or no.

"It's far better if you sit down, draw in the public, give them the information and help them along," she said. "Then it's a decision that gets made by a broader bunch of people, and then everybody feels better about it."

Downie said voters should decide on a new courthouse. He also mentioned the Nowicki building, the former sausage shop turned into county offices.

"I personally think that's a lot of money spent," he said. "It's already spent and it's already done, but I think that they should have looked at other options prior to that."

Along with working on tourism and projects, Sorgenfrei wants to improve communications with county employees, she said.

"I think that's something that sometimes, a board that's made up of men doesn't really consider all that important."

Downie touted his 37 years of management skills, most of them with the United States Postal Service.

"I was appointed (to Rogers City) because of my ability to work with people," he said. "I've had great working relationships with everyone I've worked with."

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688.



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