On April 11th, Lori and I had the opportunity to meet with Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner as the result of an encounter I had with Stephanie Bulick at World Water Day.
Stephanie stepped up to the DJJ table to ask about our connection to water justice. I was at the table at the time and explained our work in alliance with others toward ending water shut-offs and fighting for a water affordability plan. She revealed that she worked for Andy and that he is a candidate for Oakland County Executive. When I asked if he was aware of the water issues in Detroit, she replied that she wasn't sure and asked if we wanted to meet with him and discuss it. I remembered that the County Executive would be in charge of appointing one of the six reps to the GLWA (the Great Lakes Water Authority), and I quickly answered, "Yes." The GLWA makes many decisions for the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, making this an opportune invitation.
Lori and I met with Andy at his office at 205 W. Huron Street in Pontiac. The location of his office, in the middle of Pontiac in a very old home, indicates where his thinking is. His campaign chair, Emily, greeted us and showed us around the house, which he calls the “Beehive.” He makes other rooms in house available to other non-profits and local groups.
We went to meet with Andy with three goals in mind. First, we wanted to create a relationship, get to know him and his general political outlook, and to educate him about DJJ. Second, we wanted to assess his knowledge of water issues and his thoughts about them. Finally, we wanted to fill in holes in what he knew, specifically regarding shut-offs, water affordability, and how these issues affect Oakland County. We explained that our purpose for meeting with him was to offer the opportunity to expand his knowledge around the water shutoffs and related issues in the hope it would elevate his messaging and priority on these issues as he campaigns for (and potentially becomes) the Oakland County Executive.
We learned that Andy is aware of both the state and Oakland County Republicans’ efforts to take over the Metro Detroit water system and he is very aware of the racial aspects of this issue. Andy seeks to advertise himself as the most progressive candidate to appeal directly to the growing population of people of color in the county and it seems as though he has done things in his time as country treasurer to advocate for people of color and low-income folks in his community. Breaking down barriers between counties and with Detroit is very high on his list of priorities, whether through transportation, water, or economic development.
Andy listened closely to our explanations of the origins of the GLWA and how it affects water affordability in Detroit. We still don’t know if the term of the Oakland County member of the GLWA would be open to a new appointment upon election of the new county executive, but we explained how a sympathetic 3rd vote out of 6 on the GLWA Board would greatly help Detroit. We explained aspects of the Haas Report and left him with a copy of the Executive Summary. We also left him with information on the water bill package introduced in the state legislature and the University of Michigan report on shutoffs, which also includes info on shutoffs in Oakland County.
We were so pleased to have had the opportunity to meet with Andy and have him as a new ally. He wants to stay in touch and is open to helping us with our work going forward. All meetings with politicians should go this well!
You can learn more about Andy Meisner on his website.
Barry is a lifelong learner, educator, and activist. For over 48 years he served as a teacher, principal and leadership consultant in urban school districts, guided by a Jewish/Existential sense of responsibility for social justice. Barry is a big picture planner and a leader who listens and understands the need to build meaningful relationships. In this regard, as a member of various communities, Barry trusted others and they in turn entrusted him to chair the board of Lighthouse PATH (of Oakland County), to lead the Pontiac Education Association PAC and to lead Congregation Shir Tikvah as its President. As part of the DJJ Steering Committee he nurtures our beloved, multi-generational, Jewish organization to collaboratively achieve the social justice we seek.
Grateful for all the opportunities he has had throughout his life, he continues to try to help others improve their lives. Barry is a DJJ Steering Committee member and Water Justice Liaison.