Sue Schink is a newly-elected Commissioner of Washtenaw County, as well as the Chair of the Washtenaw County Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC), and Chair of the Northfield Township Land Preservation Committee. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has a master’s degree in Resource Policy from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.
What are the issues you are interested in working on as County Commissioner? I’m working on policies to support open space preservation and farmland preservation, to prevent teen suicide and depression, and working for clean water and opportunities for all of our people. We’re looking at increasing internet access in the county, and we’re working to make sure we get mental health care services to as many people as we can.
Why is the county interested in providing mental health services? Providing mental health care is a mandated activity of the County. A lot of people need help in a particular time in their lives, and if they get that help when they need it, they can go on to be productive… It’s my firm belief that the County is in a good position to help further that conversation.
Why do you support farmland preservation? It’s important to protect the local food shed because it keeps us safe from food shortages, it provides jobs for people — I should say, it provides meaningful jobs for people. The land protects our drinking water, and it makes Washtenaw County a wonderful place to live, which strengthens our economy.
What are your strategies to protect farmland and open spaces in Washtenaw County? I like conservation easements as a tool for preserving land because they are contractual and they’re permanent… A purchased easement allows a land owner to gain economic benefit from doing something that’s beneficial to the community, and I’ve heard from landowners who are farmers that they use the money to expand their businesses., thus investing in our agricultural community and economy.
For people who don’t already own land but who are interested in starting a farm or having stewardship over an area, are there any options available for them? I think it’s important to look at equity issues surrounding land preservation, which isn’t to say that we should stop what we’re doing, but I want to see us doing more. Land preservation is a climate change prevention strategy. Also, because of changing weather patterns, it’s important that we have access to local farmland for food security. That can include smaller spaces in urban areas, where there isn’t so much open land.
What are the strategies you’re working on to close the equity gap in Washtenaw County? As a county, we have an equity policy that was just put in place before I came on as a Commissioner, to look at county policies and make sure that everyone in the county organization is acting in a way so as not to perpetuate systemic racism. I also think that it’s important that the county focus on making sure that the same opportunities are available in communities that have typically been under-resourced.
What do you believe is the significance of this moment for women in politics? In this past election cycle many qualified women ran for office with smart, informed campaigns. We spoke to the people’s need for honest government, investment in our people, environment and infrastructure. I am not surprised we won. And in office, we have gotten straight to work serving our people’s very real needs.