Meet the Candidates: Commissioner Amy Perschbacher discusses her run for reelection

Amy Perschbacher

Vice mayor and city commissioner Amy Perschbacher is one of five candidates to file for the three open city commission seats up for election on Nov. 2.

Perschbacher is the only incumbent running for reelection this year. Commissioners Petro Tolas and Lori Gillis did not file a petition to run. 

Perschbacher is a mental health counselor and has been a commissioner for three years for the City of Mount Pleasant.

“I’ve been serving for three years and I think I’m level-headed on the commission,” Perschbacher said. “I want to do the best I possibly can to bring Mount Pleasant’s resources to the people.”

Central Michigan Life spoke with Perschbacher on her priorities and goals in reelection.

CM Life: How will your prior work experience support you in this commission seat?

I’m a clinic manager and building manager at Ronan Psychological Associates. I’ve been a commissioner for three years in our city and I was also once a planning and zoning commissioner for Ensley Township for about three years. As a mental health therapist and counselor, the one thing we’re taught and put at the forefront of our training is being able to work with and listen to people. Not just hear them talk, but listen to the underlying tones, the verbals and nonverbals, and the social rhythms in their cultures. I’m also a problem-solver. I work with violent offenders that have recently been incarcerated or charged with domestic violence. One of the things I do with them is teach them how to problem solve, handle their emotions, and get what they need without becoming violent or winding back up in jail. Working on the commission and being a problem-solver is vital.

How are you involved in the Mount Pleasant community?

I’m a chair of the theatre group the Friends of the Broadway. I spend a lot of time helping with the productions, house managing, and advertising. I’m a dedicated member of the Isabella County Human Rights Committee, Community Corrections Advisory Board, and a therapist advisor on the Isabella County Drug Treatment Court. I’ve volunteered throughout the years in many events downtown. As a commissioner I’m also on several volunteer-based boards, such as the Appointments Committee. I’ve sat down with businesses to see how they need help because that’s important to me. If you don’t understand what your businesses and residents truly want then you're just talking about your own agenda.

What are your top 3 issues of priority?

The absolute top priority is helping businesses get back on their feet after the pandemic. With that comes worker pay and being able to sustain a life without working 3-4 jobs. Isabella County is a very poor county and within Mount Pleasant we have a transient community. People move in hoping to find work and thrive, but have to leave due to job difficulties. We need to focus on uplifting these businesses and creating jobs for these communities. Next, with the reduction of CMU’s enrollment there’s a lot of houses that are sitting there not being rented. I think we need to create something that will incentivize these property owners and management companies to take away rentals and turn them into purchases. We could look to use funding for creation of a program that could offer a designated amount of assistance towards down payments on a house. We already have a program that helps people do improvements on their home through grants. Last is drug abuse issues. Recently, the city commission with Paul Lauria, our chief of police, is putting in a mental health therapist to be part of the police department. It’s not common for a town our size and Paul’s done tons of research into the program. Isabella County has a huge drug problem. Drugs are a mental health issue. They’re unable to get mental health help and they start self-medicating. This leads to people in our community being unable to hold down a job or a place to live. I think this program is a big step in the right direction and it’s exciting to see this developing. 

How will you involve residents in the decision-making in our city?

I think that we have to hold a town hall every once in a while. We also have events like Mount Pleasant’s Farmers Market where we could definitely get into more one-on-one discussions. We’ve had people come in to talk during commission meetings, but those are always the same people. I’m thankful and glad that they’re invested in the city, but we need to involve everyone and as many people as possible. We have areas in the city that are vastly different from other ones. I think we need to work to send out some Surveymonkeys or a team to knock on doors and evaluate resident’s feedback. Problem-solving is about bringing in all the players and creating solutions together.

If elected, what steps will you take to put our city on a stronger financial ground?

A lot of it has to do with the changes that we’ve started implementing in the Master Plan. When people get off the highway and come down the Mission Street corridor it looks like every other stripmall, shopping center. In the Master Plan we’ve talked about making it look more like a neighborhood; slowing down to see things and integrating a boulevard. Overall, making Mount Pleasant look more inviting to bring in revenue. Local places like Ignite Donuts are the type of local, innovative businesses we want to come in and take over a lot of these empty buildings that we have on Mission or especially in the downtown area. Nobody wants to come into a downtown where it looks like nothing’s happening in half the buildings. We’ve begun looking at different grants and programs to support local businesses in renovation or startups.

If elected, how will you work to support Mount Pleasant’s homeless population?

I’m always excited about the work at the Isabella County Restoration House. They do a great job, but the problem is that it’s temporary. It would be great if we could have an actual year-round shelter through the Restoration House. The city could provide some funding for mental health therapists or substance abuse therapists. A lot of people are homeless because they’ve fallen on hard times — not laziness. A lot of people in the U.S. are one paycheck away from homelessness. People can work several jobs and never make ends meet. Our city’s base is the people that live here and we need to support them. We need a more permanent solution.

Many residents are divided on the state of marijuana in Mount Pleasant. Where do you stand and what can the city do to either promote or mitigate the industry?

I personally don’t have a problem with recreational marijuana or medical marijuana. The residents in the state of Michigan voted yes. They want this and we opted in to make this happen. In Mount Pleasant, this didn't go exactly the way we expected. Mount Pleasant isn't the only city dealing with recreational marijuana disputes. Lawsuits are all over the state. Either people do or don’t want it and cannabis has been a controversial debate forever. I think there are pros and cons to usage, just as there is with over-the-counter medicine like Aspirin or Tylenol. I think one day we’ll reach a point where it’s generally accepted. The city commission put it in on the ballot and we had nothing to do with the lawsuit that pulled it off the ballot. I’m frustrated with what happened. If people have signed this then we’ll put it out to the people. That’s not something I want to regulate; it’s up to the people. I do want small businesses to feel protected here, but the city doesn’t have the power to do everything. We started off small with three and we always have the potential for growth in the future.

In a hypothetical scenario without funding constraints, what would you want to change about the city and how?

The first thing I’d want to do is get the development started on the Mount Pleasant Center. I have tons of ideas of what we could do there. I’ve spoken with many people and some people want subdivisions, a mixed-use shopping center, or an aquatic center. They’re all great ideas, I just want to make sure that when we do it we pay respect to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and acknowledge them. With unlimited funding, that’s the first thing I’d do.

Any other thoughts?

I try to take in everybody’s perspectives and come up with a solution that’s going to work as respectfully for as many people as possible. Obviously, you can’t make everyone happy and people think as a public official I should just make everyone happy no matter what. But that’s not how it works. If someone is happy there will always be someone that’s not. It’s about working with my community to see what is best for the situation.