Watershed Voice sent out questionnaires to over 30 candidates in contested local, state, and national races in St. Joseph County and the surrounding area for the November 3 General Election. In the days leading up to Election Day, Watershed will publish the answers it has received. Kathy Greaves, a Democratic candidate for the Second District seat on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, filled out our questionnaire. These are her answers.
Name: Kathy Greaves
Address: 55335 S Thompson Lane, Three Rivers 49093
Party affiliation: Democrat
Are you an incumbent? No
Family (optional): Son  in Three Rivers
My name is Kathy Greaves, and I’m running for District 2 County Commissioner. I grew up in the village of Valley View, OH, a small farming community SW of Cleveland, OH with my older brother and two younger sisters. I’ve lived in SW Michigan for 12 years and have called Park Township home. I am a Nutritionist for the Kellogg Company. I have had no previous experience holding public office but throughout my life I have been very engaged in the effect of local, state and federal politics on our lives.
My brother is an electrician and his wife is a teacher. My two sisters both own small businesses. One of my sisters wasn’t able to financially weather this current COVID situation and she has had to liquidate her business and figure out how to pay the bills left by her business and for her and her son in the future. My mom is 87 years old, living alone, and having a very hard time keeping her spirits up while deathly afraid of going out and getting sick.
I put myself through school and it wasn’t always easy. There was a time when we lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with my only transportation being a bike with a child seat on the back. I would put my young son into the seat and off we went to drop him at the neighbor’s apartment and then head off to work or school. I look back and see that it was a difficult time, but I kept moving and we got through it and am better for it on the other side. I also have great memories of those times with my son that I will cherish forever.
After graduation from high school I attended Hiram College and received a bachelor’s in Psychology. Not knowing what my next steps were, I drove a school bus for a year. Today, I have a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and a PhD in Nutrition. I work for the Kellogg Company as a Nutrition Scientist.
I’m currently working out of my home here in Park Township because of the COVID situation so my commute is really from the coffee pot to a room upstairs with my desk and computer. Although I loved my drive to and from work, I now get to look out my window at the forest and river outside our home.
Health and wellbeing is important to our quality of life. Nutrition and physical activity are both important parts of that. I’m not able very often to go to a party or out to dinner without someone asking me a question about their diet and exercise habits… “What do you think about the keto diet or intermittent fasting?” “Is it really ok to eat eggs again?” “What do you think about this ‘fake’ meat that I can but at the grocery or they serve at restaurants? It really does taste close to the real stuff.” “Should I exercise every day, or do I need to exercise at all to stay healthy?” I enjoy the conversation and I enjoy the debates.
Have you previously held public office, or have you served in a public leadership role? If so, what is your experience, and what are some of your accomplishments?
I have not previously held public office. Most of my leadership roles have occurred in my professional life as well as churches and organizations I’ve been a part of. For example, I led efforts to fund youth programs with grant writing at the church my son and I were a part of.
In your opinion, what are the three most important issues to the area you are seeking to represent and its constituents, and why?
Infrastructure: In SJC, 10 bridges are rated “Poor”, including The Covered Bridge. The Portage Plant Dam is also rated as “High” Downstream Hazard Potential. We have seen this year in Michigan, how dangerous it can be to not constantly upkeep our infrastructure.
Broadband Internet: The US Census Bureau reports that 25% of SJC students don’t have broadband internet which is a critical disadvantage during these unprecedented times. Lack of broadband internet also, even in normal times, is a great hindrance for people to get emergency information, education or connect with others.
Transparency: Commissioner meetings aren’t convenient for residents to attend or to provide input. Many constituents don’t feel their concerns are heard or addressed by our local government.
What measures will you pursue to address those issues?
Infrastructure: I will work to keep roads, bridges and dams well maintained rather than waiting for an emergency. I will work to keep them in good repair by developing and enforcing a “Dam and Bridge Upkeep Plan”.
Broadband Internet: I will work with our grant writer to obtain state and federal grants to help cover installation costs for residents who want and need broadband internet.
Transparency: I will advocate for “The Public’s Voice” at the beginning and end of meetings and find ways to get comments to Commissioners even if you can’t attend meetings. I will advocate for “The Public’s Voice” comments/issues to have formal responses from Commissioners to ensure issues are properly addressed. I will advocate for Commissioner meetings to be live-streamed and saved online.
What are the three most important national issues in your opinion? What is your position on those issues?
The economy, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, is certainly a concern. With 53% of Americans claiming to be “very” concerned about the economy, according to FiveThirtyEight, many people are limiting investments in order to ensure their savings can outlast the pandemic. And unfortunately, those most vulnerable before the pandemic are hurting the worst. Whether it be the inability to afford rent, medications, or even food, this is the time where government aid plays a crucial role in getting us all through this time.
Healthcare is a major concern for many especially with the increased need due to the coronavirus pandemic and coverage being threatened with the Supreme Court battle in the coming weeks. This can be particularly troublesome for the over 40% of St. Joseph County residents who use public health insurance (according to MLive.com). The Affordable Care Act has played such an important role in helping people get the treatment they need during this pandemic.
Had this pandemic happened just 8 years earlier, around 3,000 St. Joseph County residents wouldn’t have been insured. There is a time and place to evaluate public healthcare options, but to attempt to strike it down in the middle of the deadliest pandemic in a century will have terrible consequences on St. Joseph County residents and delay our ability to reopen our county.
Racial equity is something we need to continue addressing on a national level. There are a number of factors that contribute to socioeconomic separation between races that often keep families from being able to emerge from poverty. Many of these are systemic or “baked” into our economic system. Black and Hispanic people are at greater risk than Whites and Asians to find themselves living in poverty. They earn lower wages than their white counterparts and have higher hurdles to overcome for advancement just because of the color of their skin. Education, healthcare and food insecurity are also areas where disparities run along racial lines.
Systemic racism is racial injustice expressed through systems and structures. For example, school districts are typically funded through property taxes. In poor communities where properties are worth less, homeowners pay less in taxes, the tax base is small and fewer funds are provided to schools. With a smaller tax base to support each student, teachers are paid less, students lack in technology and learning materials, and have fewer opportunities, including team sports and other extracurricular activities.
These early life inequities result in higher drop-out rates, lower educational attainment, unemployment due to lack of education, and ultimately not reaching one’s full potential. This situation disproportionately affects people of color because of the historical systemic racism that has created conditions where they aren’t able to own their own home or land. It’s clear how difficult it can be to close the racial divide.
Do you agree that the American electorate is divided right now? If your answer is yes, what measures do you think elected officials can take to bring Americans together?
Yes, there is a lot of fighting and division in our country today. First and foremost, elected officials should stop stoking the division. Many politicians are using divisive rhetoric and sensationalism to push forward their own agendas. This must stop. What we can do is focus on the things that we agree on. Something we can all agree on is that we want to beat this virus and reopen St. Joseph County.
We are ready to move past the election season drama. We want to fill the empty buildings in Three Rivers, Sturgis, Centreville, Colon, Constantine and White Pigeon with bustling small businesses. We want to keep our drinking water safe from agricultural runoff while ensuring our nearly 900 farms make St. Joseph County the agricultural center of Michigan. We can agree that the community spirit will always be able to overcome national discourse and that St Joseph County can be a model for that idea.
We will need to listen to each other in order to move past this pandemic together. Everyone is fighting their own battles during this uncertain time but that doesn’t mean we need to fight each other or fight alone.
How long have you lived in the area you are seeking to represent?
I’ve lived in SW Michigan for 12 years and have called Park Township home since June of 2019.
Why did you choose to run for the position that you did?
I’ve lived in communities that have been successful and thriving and I’ve lived in communities where people haven’t been able to get ahead. Local government has a major role to play in helping citizens to thrive and to have a successful, sustainable livelihood. I have seen budget cuts and increases in taxes and fees here in our County. And I’ve seen how Covid-19 shutdowns have put many of our county residents in financial peril.
We need to grow our county, not shrink it and certainly not continue to squeeze our townships. It’s one thing to be present at meetings and events but it’s a whole different ball game when you work to improve the lives of our citizens. I felt that it was my responsibility to step up and make a difference.
In your view, what role should the person in the office you are seeking serve?
The job of County Commissioner is to set policy, provide oversight and make sure you get the services you and your family need. The first job is setting policy which basically means making sure the budget is spent wisely on those people working to provide you services, on maintaining buildings and roads, and on making sure you’re getting the county services you need and deserve. Oversight, the Commission’s second function, basically means looking over the shoulder of those who are providing you services and programs to be sure they are provided in the most effective and efficient manner. And the third function, providing you those services, means that I will represent you and make sure those county services are working for you and for your family.
Over the past several months, pandemic has required virtual meetings for many public bodies. Some are returning to in-person meetings, while others are not. Where do you stand on this both with respect to safety and to public access?
For public meetings, as long as (1) mandated protections from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are followed during the in-person meetings and (2) an option to call-in is available (which also would help with adding to government transparency), I see no problem with returning to in-person meetings. While these safety measures can feel tedious and extraneous, they will be the fastest way for us to fully come out of this pandemic.
What other comments do you have regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
When we don’t wear a mask, socially distance, wash our hands or follow safety guidelines, the ones we put most in danger are the ones closest to us: our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers, particularly if they are older or have pre-existing risk factors. Whether you are “Listening to the scientists” like Biden or “Putting America first” like Trump, valuing the lives around you should be a priority. Beating this pandemic isn’t a sprint, it’s not even a marathon, it’s a relay race where we each need to be doing our part and supporting each other.
Is there anything else your prospective constituents should know about you, your platform, your views, or your background?
I grew up in a farming community. I’ve lived in communities that have been successful and thriving. I’ve lived in communities where people haven’t been able to get ahead. I believe local government has a role to play in helping their citizens to thrive and be successful. With budget cuts and increases in taxes and fees here in St. Joseph County over the last 4 years, I felt that it was my responsibility to step up and do what I can to make a difference.
I’m not a lawyer or a politician but I am a part of this community and I see where I can make a difference in St. Joseph County where others may have not succeeded and where COVID-19 has taken a toll. We need to make sure our farmers come back strong. We need to get our small businesses back up and running. The people of St. Joseph County are strong and resilient, and we persevere. We can do this, not on the backs of the community but with grants and funding from outside the community; from state, local, federal, and nonprofit agencies.
My commitments to our community: I will LISTEN to you! I will make our county budget work BETTER for you! I will get you the services you need and DESERVE!