Prioritizing community health

An interview with Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers highlights his dedication to community health.

A large component of a community’s health is the City Commission behind it.  Knowing this, Anna Kiefer sat down with Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers to discuss the way decisions at the local level can affect positive change for constituents.

When asked about policy oversight for the city’s resources, the mayor described matching the city’s ordinances, policies and funding to the demand of their population.

“More and more people want to be able to walk their children to school and bike to work,” Carruthers said. “Many young families are moving here for that exact reason. Furthermore, the farm-to-table movement has really taken off and has grown our regional food system. I’m happy to say that we even accept [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] SNAP benefits at the farmers market.”

The mayor went on to enthusiastically describe the multi-million dollar 5-mile trail that is being built, and the advancement of parks to involve more features for children. Even more, he explained the City Commission’s support of gardening. The development and organization of these plans does not come without some struggles, however.

“Traverse City has 30,000-40,000 people commuting in each day,” said Carruthers. “One of the challenges is that regional infrastructure is provided for all these people. Budgeting and allocating the funds for these projects can be hard if they have been pushed back.”

It doesn’t help that there is a limited window for roadwork and other construction to be done due to the huge tourist influx during the summer months.

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Traverse City was named ‘Strongest Town’ by the non-profit organization Strongest Town. The contest showcases town that have the building blocks in place to be strong towns today and in the future.

Mayor Carruthers did not hesitate to attribute much of the town’s success to the community partnerships with Munson Community Health, Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails and various real estate and building exchange groups. He also added the value of working with all urban townships.

It was not hard to see that the Mayor’s dedication to understanding his community is far reaching.

“The first thing I was asked to do as mayor was the food challenge where I tried to purchase all my food from the amount of money I would get on SNAP,” he said. “I had a hard time and was tired more often and became easily bored of what I was eating.”

He went into detail about the difficulties faced by low-income individuals and families and the health disparities that prevail.

Mayor Carruther’s commitment to supporting every member of his community is an integral part of Traverse City’s success.

Anna Kiefer completed a community nutrition dietetic internship rotation with Michigan State University Extension Grand Traverse County. Interviewing a local elected official and completing this article was one of several competencies met during her rotation with MSU Extension. Anna is enrolled in the Coordinated Masters of Science / Dietetic Internship program at Grand Valley State University. 

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