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GT County:  A Culture of Authoritarianism?

Sylvia McCullough

March 20, 2020

Analysts, scholars, journalists and many more have been commenting and writing on the rise of authoritarianism in western democracies, including the United States, for years. They have come to a consensus about some of the primary tools used by dictators to further authoritarian control. (

That here is a culture of authoritarianism seeping down from the highest office of our land to local government entities such as the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners has been observed through the public’s participation, observation and attendance at these meetings over time. Some of the Commissioners have been seen to be employing a number of these tools as follows:

1. Controlling and preventing access to information:

It has been noted on more than one occasion, that items up for votes have been added to the agenda with only a 24-hour notice, for example, the recent meeting of the Ad Hoc Ethics Committee which was added to the agenda the day before the meeting was to take place at a time and day the Committee did not usually meet. It is also noted that the Chair has deemed himself the sole controller of what can be put on the agenda.

2. Spreading false narratives of what is taking place or has happened:

On August 21, 2019, a resolution was voted by the Grand Traverse Board of Commissioners to support the building of a tunnel to house Enbridge Line 5 which passed on a 4 – 3 vote. Passing such a resolution which wraps all the citizens of Grand Traverse County into the same envelope is not an honest representation of public opinion in our county. What it does represent is the unsupported opinion of four of the commissioners who voted to support the resolution. At that meeting over 50 citizens spoke against passing the resolution and many more protested outside the building.

This resolution was then used covertly as “evidence” in the article published in the Detroit News on Oct 22, 2019, entitled “Northern Michigan Wants the Great Lakes Tunnel.” One of the authors was identified as the Chairman of Grand Traverse County Commission. The article included Grand Traverse County in a list of northern counties which had passed resolutions for the support of the Enbridge Line 5 tunnel. It was, in fact a false narrative of what had taken place


3. Character assassination of those who disseminate the truth:

In August over 100 people gathered at the Grand Traverse Board of Commissioners to protest endorsing the Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel while at the same time keeping Line 5 operating, presenting to the Board facts and information regarding the threat to the Great Lakes should the line break. The Chair dismissed the calls to shut down Line 5 and not build the tunnel, as “emotional” rather than fact based. In any case, the speakers were defamed and made to look foolish, and summarily dismissed with the Commissions vote to support the tunnel.

Citizens must become involved in local government to ensure that the practice of democratic norms and rules are not usurped by persons seeking to further self-interest using authoritarian means.

Any opinions that may have been stated here do not reflect the positions of the Grand Traverse Democrats.

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