A proposal to name a county building on Main Street in honor of recently retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel is receiving pushback from one commissioner. At last week’s administrative briefing, Wes Prater told his fellow county commissioners that the resolution being presented at their May 19 board meeting “is going to cause some conversation.”
Conan Smith defended the resolution, which would name the building at 200 N. Main St. the Robert E. Guenzel Government Center. He called Guenzel’s 37-year tenure “remarkable,” saying his length of service and number of accomplishments makes him worthy of the honor. But Prater questioned the process and fairness of the decision, asking, “Who’s being overlooked?”
Also at Wednesday’s briefing, incoming county administrator Verna McDaniel announced her decision to hire Bill Reynolds as deputy administrator. He was one of two finalists who’d been in town earlier this month for a full day of interviews. The board will be asked to approve the hire at its June 2 meeting.
To mark her promotion to county administrator, McDaniel will be honored at a reception prior to the May 19 board meeting, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at 220 N. Main St.
After last Wednesday’s briefing, commissioners also held a caucus to discuss appointments to nine county boards and commissions. They’ll vote on the appointments at their May 19 meeting, and if the consensus reached at caucus holds, it will result in turnover on the county’s historic district commission.
And a dearth of applications for the workforce development board prompted a discussion of the importance of that group, which helps oversee the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS) department. Among other things, ETCS is handling roughly $4 million in stimulus funds to weatherize local homes, and commissioner Ken Schwartz raised concerns over the effectiveness of that effort.
Naming a Building: What’s the Policy?
During Wednesday’s administrative briefing, a draft copy of the board’s May 19 agenda included a resolution under “new business” to rename the building at 200 N. Main St. the Robert E. Guenzel Government Center. Built in 2000, the four-story structure houses several departments, including offices of the prosecuting attorney, treasurer, and county clerk, register of deeds and vital records.
McDaniel told commissioners that she’d prefer to bring the resolution from the floor, rather than have it included in the agenda. The agenda now posted online reflects that request – the resolution is no longer listed.
Most of the discussion about the naming took place during the appointments caucus which immediately followed Wednesday’s briefing, and which wasn’t attended by McDaniel. Wes Prater asked how the proposal had surfaced, and was told by board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. that it had been suggested by commissioners Leah Gunn and Barbara Bergman. Neither Gunn nor Bergman attended Wednesday’s briefing or caucus.
Prater indicated that naming a building after an employee wasn’t appropriate without discussing the criteria used. “We’ve got a lot of good employees,” he said.
Ken Schwartz pointed to the county’s Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center as an example of a building named in someone’s honor. Murray was a county commissioner – an elected position – who was the driving force behind starting the county parks system.
Conan Smith said there wasn’t a policy about naming facilities. “It’s an honor more than a process,” he said. In that case, Prater replied, it becomes a question of fairness. He wondered who’s being overlooked, and said it seemed like a done deal without any discussion.
Smith said that Guenzel’s service has been remarkable, both in length and accomplishments. He served 37 years with the county, including 15 years as county administrator, and has taken on many leadership roles in the community during that tenure. Among other things, he was instrumental in developing the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness and in leading the effort to build the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter located in Ann Arbor. Last December he announced his retirement, which took effect May 14.
Prater said if the resolution comes to the floor at the May 19 meeting, he plans to air his concerns.
Deputy County Administrator Hired, Finance Director on Hold
During Wednesday’s administrative briefing, Verna McDaniel – the incoming county administrator – told commissioners that she has made an offer to Bill Reynolds for the position of deputy county administrator, at a salary of $138,000. He accepted the position, she said, and plans to start on June 21. Commissioners will be asked to approve the appointment at their June 2 meeting.
Reynolds and another finalist for the position, Jose Reyes, spent the day on May 5 being interviewed by county management and others. McDaniel said the feedback in favor of Reynolds was nearly unanimous.
Until resigning to take the Washtenaw County job, Reynolds was chief administrative officer for Chippewa County, Wisc. He served as chief of staff for Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and led the teams that oversaw the Senate confirmation hearings of both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sam Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also served in Iraq in 2004 with a Marine Corps reserve unit, and was a senior officer leading civil/military operations in Al Anbar province. He has a masters degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University – McDaniel has the same degree from Harvard.
McDaniel, who was deputy administrator until being promoted to county administrator when Guenzel retired, said Reynolds’ style is very different from hers, but that they complement each other. Because of his experience running a county himself, “he can hit the ground running,” she told commissioners at Wednesday’s briefing.
Commissioner Ken Schwartz asked about the status of McDaniels’ search for a finance director. That position is vacant following the retirement of former finance director Peter Ballios at the end of 2009. McDaniel said she’s decided not to make a hire until Reynolds comes on board. There might be opportunities to restructure, she said, and she wanted his advice.
Rolland Sizemore Jr., the county board’s chair, told McDaniel he wanted her and Reynolds to attend an Ypsilanti Township board meeting and be introduced as the county’s new top administrators. He said he wanted to go along as well, and he invited the other commissioners who represent parts of Ypsilanti Township – Ronnie Peterson and Wes Prater. It was important to reach out to other government leaders, he said, adding that he wanted to go to the board of Superior Township as well – his district includes a small portion of that township.
Conan Smith said it would be a good idea to do the same thing for the Ann Arbor city council. He noted that councilmembers “might fall over dead if someone from the county showed up at one of their meetings.”
Other Agenda Items: Road Commission, Police Services Lawsuit
Several items were on the draft agenda but were not discussed in detail at Wednesday’s briefing. Here’s a sampling.
Setting the County Operating Millage
At the May 19 meeting of the Ways & Means Committee, on which all commissioners serve, they’ll vote on a resolution to set the 2010 Washtenaw County operating millage. It will be levied in property owners’ July tax bills and is unchanged from last year, at 4.5493 mills. Commissioners will take a final vote on the millage at their June 2 board meeting.
When other millages are factored in, the total county millage is 5.6768 mills. In addition to the operating millage, these other taxes are levied in July:
County Parks (expires 2016): 0.2353 County Parks (expires 2019): 0.2367 Natural Areas (expires 2011): 0.2409 Enhanced Emergency Communications System 800 MHZ (expires 2015): 0.2000 Huron-Clinton Metro Authority: 0.2146
Later this year, the board will also be asked to approve a veterans relief millage and Act 88 millage (for economic development purposes), which will both be levied in December.
Setting a Public Hearing for Possible Road Commission Expansion
Conan Smith had previously attempted to set a public hearing for expanding the Washtenaw County Road Commission from three commissioners to five. At the board’s April 21, 2010 meeting, he moved a resolution to set the hearing for May 19. At the time, he told commissioners it wasn’t a decision on whether to expand – setting the public hearing was just a way to start the conversation. [The county board is responsible for appointing the road commissioners to six-year terms. Currently serving are David Rutledge, Douglas Fuller and Fred Veigel.]
The resolution was supported by Leah Gunn, Barbara Bergman and Jeff Irwin, but several other commissioners opposed the timing of the move, saying they wanted more time to discuss it. Ken Schwartz proposed tabling the resolution until the May 19 meeting, and that motion carried.
So on the agenda for the May 19 board meeting is a resolution to set the public hearing on the road commission expansion for the Wednesday, July 7 meeting. During the summer months, the county commissioners meet only once a month, so further action on the expansion wouldn’t likely occur until the Aug. 4 meeting at the earliest – after the Aug. 3 primary elections.
Closed Session to Discuss Pending Litigation
The board will hold a closed executive session at the end of their May 19 board meeting to get an update on the lawsuit between the county and the townships of Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti. The townships sued the county in 2006 over the cost of sheriff deputy patrols. In late April, the state Supreme Court refused to reconsider a motion made by the townships to hear the case. [See Chronicle coverage: "Townships Lose Again in Deputy Patrol Case"] The county planned to ask for a judgment to cover costs of providing patrols to the townships without a contract for most of 2006 – potentially around $2 million.
At Wednesday’s briefing, the county’s corporation counsel told commissioners that a June 2 hearing has been set regarding the judgment request.
Changes to Natural Areas Preservation Program Ordinance
At their April 22, 2010 working session, commissioners were briefed on proposed changes to the county’s Natural Areas Preservation Program, which would help the county protect more land that’s being used for farming. At their May 19 meeting, they’ll be voting on those changes.
The 10-year NAPP millage expires this year, and commissioners will need to decide whether to put a renewal for it on the November ballot. The current millage, which raises about $3 million annually to preserve natural areas in the county, expires at the end of 2010.
Two times a year, the county board approves appointments to the many boards, committees and commissions that oversee various county programs and activities. The official job of nominating people falls to the board chair, with nominations confirmed by a vote of the board. Prior to the board meeting when this occurs, an appointments caucus is held to discuss potential candidates. That caucus happened immediately after the board’s May 12 administrative briefing.
Appointments to nine groups were discussed, with consensus reached on all but one group – the local emergency planning committee. Here are the tentative appointments, based on Wednesday’s caucus:
- Accommodations Ordinance Commission: Shary Brown, Shari Faulhaber
- Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee: Charlie Koenn
- Brownfield Development Authority: Teresa Gillotti, Mark Heusel
- Emergency Medical Services Commission: Ashley Cieslinski, Eric Copeland
- Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee: Rane Curl, David Lutton
- Public Works Board: Ruth Ann Jamnick
- Workforce Development Board: Sean Duval
For the local emergency planning committee, 13 positions are open, but only four people applied. Of those, commissioners agreed to appoint two: Samantha Brandfon and Ashley Cieslinski. There were some conflict of interest concerns regarding the other two applicants, so commissioners agreed to hold off on any decision for those appointments.
In addition, agreement was reached on four appointments for the historic district commission: Chuck Gray, Jean King, Elmer White and Ron Woods. All but Woods are reappointments. Two other HDC commissioners who reapplied – Martha Churchill and Nancy Snyder – will not be reappointed, if the recommendations made at caucus are approved.
During Wednesday’s caucus, some commissioners discussed the view that the HDC hasn’t been an extremely functional group. Conan Smith said that while commission members all care passionately about the historic district, there’s been internal fighting, primarily between White and Churchill. The HDC has potential to play a role in economic development by highlighting the county’s historical assets, Smith said, but it hasn’t to date fulfilled that function.
Ken Schwartz described White as the “heart and soul” behind the effort to organize a permanent display of a model of the USS Washtenaw, the most highly decorated ship of the Vietnam War. The consensus was to reappoint White. Smith noted that the appointment of Woods would add diversity – he would be the only minority on the commission.
Workforce Development Board and Weatherization
Sean Duval, CEO of Golden Limousine in Ann Arbor, was the only applicant for the workforce development board, though there are five openings – when full, there are 13 seats on the board. He was recommended for the position by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce.
Wes Prater said the commissioners need to give the workforce development board more attention, given its oversight role. It’s one of the two primary boards – along with the community action board – that oversee the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETSC) department.
Jeff Irwin agreed with Prater, saying it was especially true given the recent change in leadership and influx of federal stimulus dollars. [Trenda Rusher, the long-time head of ETCS, retired at the end of 2009 after nearly 30 years with the county. The department is being led by interim executive director Patricia Denig.]
ETCS has been successful in garnering millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding, including $4.29 million for a program to weatherize 600 homes for low- to moderate-income families over a three-year period. That grant was announced in March 2009.
Ken Schwartz expressed concern with the weatherization program, and told commissioners the county needs to hire an objective third-party inspector to start doing spot checks on the work. He said some of the work he’s seen has not been good – a simple audit would tell the commissioners whether the program is working, he said. He asked to schedule a working session on the issue. “It bears looking at,” he said.
Schwartz has raised concerns about the weatherization program at several board meetings over the past few months, primarily pushing for faster implementation of the program. Other commissioners have asked questions as well. At an April 8, 2010 working session during which commissioners were updated on how the county’s stimulus funding was being spent, Prater asked how many local contractors were being used for the weatherization program. Staff didn’t have an answer at the time, but on Wednesday Prater said he’d been told that of the 16 or so contractors being used, only four or five were based in Washtenaw County – that concerned him.
At a Feb. 18, 2010 working session, Conan Smith had asked whether the weatherization program at ETCS might be moved to the newly created department of energy and economic development. That issue was brought up again at Wednesday’s discussion by Schwartz, who said there had been no coordination with the new energy office.
Regarding the quality of the weatherization work, on Wednesday Irwin said it would help to get data on how effective the program is. Having that information could also help the county get future grants, he said. Smith suggested getting homeowners to sign a release from DTE, so that the county could have access to their usage records and could track how much savings are gained from weatherizing homes.
Rolland Sizemore Jr. wrapped up the discussion, saying, “It’s something we will address.”
Candidates for County Commission
Alice Ralph, a Democrat who’s running for the District 11 seat that will be vacated by Jeff Irwin, attended Wednesday’s briefing – she has attended several briefings over the past few months, as well as regular board meetings. Irwin is not seeking reelection and is instead running for the state representative’s seat in District 53.
May 11 was the deadline to file for the Aug. 3 primary, and all but one of the board’s 11 districts face competition either in the primary or the November general election. Here’s a rundown of the candidates:
District 1 (Chelsea, Dexter, and the townships of Lyndon, Sylvan, Dexter and Lima, and portions of Webster and Scio townships) This seat is currently held by Republican Mark Ouimet, who will be running for state representative in District 52.
Eric Borregard (D)
Reid McCarthy (D)
Adam Zemke (D)
Kathy Jane Keinath (R)
Rob Turner (R)
District 2 (the townships of Ann Arbor, Superior, Salem and Northfield, and portions of Webster Township)
Ken Schwartz (D-Incumbent)
Ben H. Colmery III (R)
Dan Smith (R)
District 3 (the cities of Saline and Manchester, and townships of Saline, Lodi, Freedom, Bridgewater, Sharon and Manchester, and a portion of Scio Township) The seat is currently held by Jessica Ping, who isn’t seeking reelection. Alicia Ping is her sister.
Alicia Ping (R)
District 4 (the city of Milan, the townships of York and Augusta, and portions of Ypsilanti Township)
Wes Prater (D-Incumbent)
Rick Roe (D)
Robert Van Bemmelen (R)
District 5 (portions of Superior and Ypsilanti townships)
Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-Incumbent)
Daniel K. Benefiel (R)
Bill Emmerich (R)
District 6 (Ypsilanti and portions of Ypsilanti Township)
Mark Namatevs (D)
Ronnie Peterson (D-Incumbent)
David H. Raaflaub (R)
District 7 (Pittsfield Township)
Kristin Judge (D-Incumbent)
Sean Gray (R)
District 8 (northeast Ann Arbor)
Barbara Levin Bergman (D-Incumbent)
Melinda Day (R)
District 9 (south and southwest Ann Arbor)
Leah Gunn (D-Incumbent)
Mark Tipping (R)
District 10 (west and northwest Ann Arbor)
Danielle Mack (D)
Conan Smith (D-Incumbent)
District 11 (central and east Ann Arbor)
LuAnne Bullington (D)
Mike Fried (D)
Yousef Rabhi (D)
Alice Ralph (D)
Joe Baublis (R)
Contact information for the candidates can be found on the county elections website.