Unless an unforeseen set of circumstances leads Jeff Irwin, chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, to change his mind, the name he will put forward next Wednesday, Oct. 15, as his recommendation to fill the open slot on the county’s road commission is Douglas Fuller. Commissioners will then “vote by name” on Fuller and any other nominee who might be put forward by some other commissioner. Each road commissioner is paid $10,500 annually.
At a caucus yesterday to discuss the upcoming appointment to the 3-member body, Irwin said that Fuller had been attending road commission meetings, had the necessary technical expertise, and understood the balance between maintenance and building, the management of an organization under the board of commissioners’ oversight, and the connectivity between public resources. Fuller’s cover letter sent with his application says that he was tapped by the road commission to serve on the Zeeb Road task force in 2006. Fuller ran unsuccessfully in the August Democratic primary for Scio Township supervisor.
Fuller was one of 15 applicants for the position, which opened up a little less that two years into the 6-year term of former road commissioner Wesley Prater, who resigned this past summer after declaring himself a candidate for the county commission’s 4th District seat in the Democratic primary. That resignation was made necessary by the Hatch Act, which bars state, county and municipal appointees from running for public office in a partisan race if their job duties are connected to programs financed in part by federal grants and loans. Voters in the 4th District this November will choose between Prater and Republican Owen Diaz.
Of the 15 applicants to replace Prater, Irwin said he personally sat down with the five that he thought “fell above the fold.” In chronological order, he said he met with Kathy Knol, John Bulmer, Lee Gorman, Douglas Fuller, and Carl Girbach. This prompted a discussion of process, which remained the focus of the duration of the caucus. The meeting was attended by commissioners Mark Ouimet, Ken Schwartz, Jessica Ping, Karen Lovejoy Roe, Leah Gunn, Conan Smith, and Jeff Irwin.
The discussion was free-flowing and amicable.
Ping first pressed for details about why Irwin had met with only five of the 15 applicants. The process followed here, said Ping, is not specified in the rules and regulations. Irwin explained that those conversations were in addition to the process – that’s how you make appointments, you talk to people, it doesn’t need to be enshrined in the rules in order to undertake that kind of outreach. Smith expressed his view that it should be enshrined.
Ping said to protect the board of commissioners, that process should be specified in the rules and regulations, possibly through an amendment. Ouimet said that the process should be laid out explicitly (steps one, two and three, and then the chair of the board of commissioners makes a recommendation) especially now as the possibility is explored of expanding the road commission from a 3-member body to a 5-member body. Irwin said that this kind of specification of the process within the rules and regulations could be undertaken at the beginning of the year when the new board of commissioners is in place or it could be undertaken sooner if there was a consensus to do that. Irwin said that it made most sense to consider an explicit process for road commission and the parks commission, as it was these two bodies that are responsible for oversight over expenditure of significant amounts of taxpayer money.
Ping underscored her concern that the board be protected by a rigorously spelled-out process, saying, “We all get blamed for the road commission.” Ouimet weighed in for the revision to rules and regulation by the new board next year versus some of the current commissioners who may or may not be here then. Gunn stressed that the current rules don’t preclude anyone from talking to any of the applicants and that other commissioners had been free to undertake such conversations as well. Irwin said he was trying to make the process as robust as possible and as visible as possible, stating that pursuing interviews with five applicants “doesn’t impeach the process we engaged for this.”
Lovejoy Roe said that in her estimation, another engineer (like Fuller) is not what we need on the road commission. She said she’d heard he was the candidate of choice for the controlling faction of the board before any applications came in, but said, “That’s okay, that’s the reality. Whatever process the chair wants to use is fine.” Lovejoy Roe expressed the view that every applicant would be interviewed unless it didn’t matter what was said in those interviews.
Responding to Lovejoy Roe’s concerns about lack of diversity in professional background, Irwin offered that diversity on the road commission is of interest with respect to not just experience, but also with respect to gender, geography and ideology. Irwin continued by pointing out that the term for Fred Veigel (who currently serves on the road commission along with David Rutledge) expires at the end of 2008, and that it is no secret that there have been discussions of expanding the commission from a 3-member to a 5-member body, thus there were additional opportunities in the near term to achieve additional diversity. Schwartz said that the board needed to nail down the process for the appointments.
Ping asked what the point of the caucus was that they were having now. Irwin said that it was part of his attempt to make the process as open as possible. Gunn then expressed appreciation to Irwin for digging through applications and talking with the five applicants that he interviewed. Ouimet asked Irwin whether he thought he had the six votes on the commission for Fuller. Irwin said, “I believe in putting his name foward, it will have six votes.”
Complete list of applicants: Paul Ajegba, Christopher Brown, John Bulmer, Jonwaine Collins, James Drolett, Douglas Fuller, Carl Girbach, Lee Gorman, Kathy Knol, Maryann Noah, Carol Kovalak, Stephen Pontoni, Russell Sackett, Frank Wadenstorer, Jack Myers.