Editor’s Note: For the Local Government issue of Topology, we interviewed individuals who have been involved in local government in and around Three Rivers, Michigan, where most of the Topology editorial staff live. This week, meet Tom Springer, pictured at a meeting of the Park Township (MI) board of trustees. The photograph was taken by Alek Frost, and the interview was conducted by Deborah Haak.
Local government resume
I was a board member and the board president of the St. Joseph County Conservation District in Michigan from 2004-2012. I have also been a Park Township trustee in St. Joseph County, Michigan, from November 2016 to the present.
Other civic involvement
I was a board member and the vice president of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy from 1993-2005, and I continue as an active volunteer with the organization.
Why did you run for office?
For starters, because a friend I knew on the Township Board suggested that I might be interested. That’s an important lesson to remember with a new generation of young people, and hopefully, more women and minorities, who may want to serve in government. They may not realize what’s possible until someone asks them.
Also, I really like the idea of serving on a rural township board, because I think it’s as close to the Jeffersonian idea of grassroots democracy as we can get. We’re not some remote distant bureaucracy. If you have a beef or question, you can come to a township meeting (second Wednesday of the month, 7:00 p.m.) and you will get a fair hearing. You may not get what you want, but we will listen respectfully. You can’t get that access or treatment at the state and federal level.
One thing I wish is that township, municipal and county government would stay as non-partisan as possible. To me, political affiliation means next to nothing at the local level. If your street light is out or there’s a huge hole in the road, that’s a repair problem, not a political problem.
What is one dream you have for your community in the next five years?
Overall, I would like to see people move beyond the insular realm of Facebook politics, where we hurl narrow, stereotyped insults at each other as if “liberal” and “conservative” were curse words. Why not get involved with other people and organizations like *culture is not optional that spend their time and energy improving things? Pulling weeds at the Huss Project garden is a not a red-state or blue-state activity. Neither are the things we want for Three Rivers, such as higher-performing schools, better-paying manufacturing jobs, and a cool, resurgent downtown. I can’t see how these are left or right issues; they affect us all about equally. And we shouldn’t let the provocations of Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow (pick whatever bias you’re most comfortable with) distract us from that truth.
Another forgotten benefit I’d like us to rally around would be the natural resources of Three Rivers, specifically our lovely, beautiful rivers that are still remarkably clean and should be kept that way. As society becomes more urbanized, the spiritual benefits of low-impact sports such as kayaking become even more important. People need nature for renewal, and they’ll find it in spades here. We have three rivers in Three Rivers, for heaven’s sake! Can you think of a better God-given marketing tool than that?
What is your advice for citizens who wish to influence their local government?
Woody Allen said, “The world is run by people who show up for meetings.” And not only government meetings, but meetings of civic groups, church groups, sports groups, environmental groups. Everybody has gifts of time, talent and treasure they can contribute, and it feels good to use them. Our mind, body, and spirit are hard-wired for altruism. You love sports so you coach softball and learn about youth development. You love to cook so you volunteer at a soup kitchen and make first-hand contact with people of limited means. In Three Rivers, one of my favorite non-profits is the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF, of course). Every month they have a nail-trimming clinic for dogs at a local hardware store. It’s a great Saturday morning pick-me-up to take your pooch in there. All this may seem indirect, yet people working together, apolitically, for the good of the community makes the job of government that much easier.