ERIE - He is a crusty chain-smoker with a caustic sense of humor, an infectious laugh, and a very small percentage of unexpressed opinions.
She is a hometown girl with a penchant for being as politically savvy as she is polite, for being as kind and helpful as she is professional and detached.
Supervisor Dan Bonkoski and Clerk Gayle Burlen didn't come into office at the same time, but the two people who have most guided Erie Township for much of the last decade are, to many, the faces of Michigan's cornerstone township.
Both Mr. Bonkoski, 65, and Mrs. Burlen, 56, have decided to ease into retirement this year after respectively two and three four-year terms in office. Both say they are proud of their accomplishments - like bringing city water to scores of local resi
dents along 17 miles of new waterline, more than $3 million in road improvements, and added financial stability to the township. And both say they will miss helping local residents address their problems.
"I want to do something else, and what I want to do is take some trips with my wife [Joan]," Mr. Bonkoski said when asked why he chose not to seek a third term in office. "We moved to a new house in Erie recently. I've got the same amount of grass to mow, but next year, I'll have more time to do it,"
The $2 million road bond the township took out 10 years ago will be paid off this August, the township is committed to further extending water service to other areas at an affordable rate, and Erie has completed an extra $1 million worth of road work over the last eight years, Mr. Bonkoski said.
"I'm very proud of that," the supervisor said.
For her part, Mrs. Burlen said 12 years as the township's full-time clerk has left her longing for more time to spend at her cottage near Jackson, Mich.
"I'd like to be able to use it more than three weeks a summer," the affable Mrs. Burlen joked.
A township employee for 20 years, Mrs. Burlen spent the first eight working at the counter helping residents before running for clerk and winning in 1992.
She is full of memories of how Erie has changed over the years, even if it might seem much the same to the naked eye, and she recalls how her job has changed over the last dozen years.
"In my first election, one of the old lever machines that we were using at Mason High School broke," she explained.
"My husband and I had to drive up to Monroe with his boom truck in order to get another one, then we had to wrestle that thing into the school, and it weighed over 700 pounds."
Mrs. Burlen said she intends to stay on at the township, albeit in a limited capacity, to bring her eventual successor up to speed on its operations, and to keep helping constituents, most of whom she's known for decades.
"In Erie, you know a lot of the people that come before you, but you have to think, well, this is my job," Mrs. Burlen said.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:
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