Administrative briefing and appointments caucus (Jan. 14, 2009): A staff briefing attended by all but two of the 11 Washtenaw County commissioners on Wednesday evening went quickly, previewing a relatively light agenda for the Jan. 21 meeting – the first full board meeting to be led by the new chair, Rolland Sizemore Jr. Taking up a bit more time was a caucus immediately following the briefing, where commissioners made an initial pass at divvying up committee duties for the year.
Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman was in the administration offices prior to the 5 p.m. meeting start, and used a computer there to show The Chronicle a YouTube video that her 9-year-old grandson had alerted her to: Barack Obama Is Irish! The chorus goes, in part: “From the old Blarney Stone to the green hills of Tara, there’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama.” And we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that Bergman was inspired to belt out a chorus or two – even though her clogs (bought at Mast Shoes) were decided orange, not green.
Joanna Bidlack of the county administrator’s office led the briefing. Before she began, Sizemore said he’s asked county staff members to make sure they notify commissioners when they hold meetings in their districts. He wants to make sure that if the county is involved in discussions with other officials or residents of a district, the commissioner representing that district is informed. Bergman said she hoped the process didn’t get too baroque. Commissioner Kristin Judge, participating by speaker phone, said she thought having the invitation was important, even if it’s as minimal as being in an email loop.
Bidlack said that the Jan. 21 meeting would include a presentation of the “Ecology of Place” art presented by the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. The project is a collaboration between fair organizers, the Washtenaw Land Trust and local artist Leslie Sobel, and the group hopes to exhibit the finished work in one of the county buildings, Bidlack said.
Also on the agenda:
- An agreement to receive FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) pass-through funds of up to $72,808 to pay for the salary and fringe benefits of Mark Breckenridge, the county’s emergency management director. In previous years, the county has received far less than that, Bidlack said. In 2007-08, they received $51,686 in funding.
- An agreement to accept a Homeland Security grant of $1.2 million, to pay for disaster preparedness, and emergency planning and coordination, among other things.
- An agreement to receive $14,464 in federal funds from the Department of Homeland Security for Community Emergency Response Team training. Responding to a commissioner’s query, Bidlack said that last year, about 24 citizens were trained, and that any Washtenaw County citizen is eligible.
- An agreement to award $256,548 in county matching funds for a Community Corrections Program, administered by the Washtenaw County Trial Court and designed to provide alternative sentencing options. Those funds have already been allocated in the 2009 budget.
- An agreement to accept $103,944 from the state’s Safe Communities grant, to pay for overtime hours related to enforcing underage drinking laws, safety belt laws and other enforcement.
Finally, Bidlack reminded commissioners of a photo shoot set for Monday, Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. to take the board’s official group portrait as well as individual shots. Commissioner Mark Ouimet quipped, “We need to get some better-looking commissioners.”
The newly installed board – sworn in last week – had to fill board positions on 33 county committees, councils and boards. Appointments are officially made by the chair (Sizemore) and voted on by the board, but the process on Wednesday night was collaborative. Commissioners had previously sent Sizemore their preferences for committee appointments, and he began the caucus by saying “I want to make this as easy as possible.” For the most part when more than one person asked for the spot, they quickly worked out who had the most interest in serving without any overt arm-wrestling.
It became clear as they worked through the list that some committees held much more weight than others. For example, the Solid Waste Management Consortium never meets, according to commissioner Ken Schwartz. Ditto for the Drug Forfeiture Committee, which commissioner Jeff Irwin says has never met in the 10 years he’s been on the commission. Irwin’s revelation led to a discussion of what the state-mandated committee does, or should do, and an apparent consensus that it would be good to find out what was happening to drug forfeiture funds. [Editor's note: A search of the county's website found reference to a meeting of the committee in October 1999, when Ron Schebil was sheriff. It is set up to allocate funds from crime-related forfeitures generated by the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team, known as LAWNET.]
Leah Gunn, Sizemore and Irwin are tentatively tapped to serve on the Emergency Telephone District Board. Discussion of that appointment prompted Irwin to note that the county has seven 911 call centers, when it should probably only have two. Conan Smith and Wes Prater both had interest in serving on the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study Committee (WATS) – Smith saying he’d like to align local efforts so that the county would be eligible for more federal funding, and Prater because he saw a good fit with being the Road Commission liaison, a position to which he’ll likely be appointed. Smith deferred to Prater.
The appointments expected to cause some friction are those to the Police Services Steering Committee: six commissioners – Jeff Irwin, Barbara Bergman, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Rolland Sizemore and Ken Schwartz – are interested, but only four positions are available. This committee was formed in 2006 to discuss issues related to the price of contract policing by the county sheriff’s department and to address the kind of police services the county should provide. In the past it has been at the nexus of a split between commissioners representing urban districts – which pay for their own police services as well as supporting the county sheriff’s department – and rural districts, which rely on the sheriff’s department for public safety services.
Sizemore said he planned to talk with each commissioner individually about the appointments before presenting them at the Jan. 21 meeting. At that meeting, he will make his recommendations, and the board then votes to accept or reject them.
Prater brought up the fact that in total, there are more than 60 county committees, councils and boards, and asked whether it might be time to pare down the ones that weren’t active. Sizemore said that Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporate counsel, was reviewing the committees and that they’d likely make decisions based on that review.
Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge (by speaker phone), Mark Ouimet, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith
Next board meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date] The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting.