New Washtenaw County Board Kicks Off 2013

Yousef Rabhi elected chair; board rules changed to eliminate option of abstaining from vote; board updated on Humane Society contract

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 2, 2013): The first meeting of 2013 reflected a mix of celebration as well as some tensions on the newly constituted nine-member board.

Declan LaBarre, Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Declan LaBarre, son of Andy and Megan LaBarre, was the youngest of many family members who attended the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to watch the new board get sworn in. Andy LaBarre is the newest Ann Arbor commissioner, elected on Nov. 6 to represent District 7. (Photos by the writer.)

After the swearing-in of commissioners – a ceremony officiated by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum – the two main agenda items were the election of board officers, and approval of revised board rules and regulations.

Two of the four new board officers are from Ann Arbor: Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who was elected chair of the board on an 8-1 vote, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissenting, and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who was unanimously elected chair of the board’s working sessions.

In explaining his vote against Rabhi later in the meeting, Dan Smith cited the previous tradition of rotating the chair position between Ann Arbor representatives and commissioners from the out-county area, to ensure that all voices are well-represented in all aspects of county business. Smith’s district covers some of the county’s more rural townships, including the townships of Webster, Northfield, Salem. The chair for the previous two years, Conan Smith (D-District 9), is also from Ann Arbor.

Dan Smith said it was especially troubling to have another Ann Arbor chair because Ann Arbor districts have declined proportionately to the rest of the districts – decreasing from four districts on an 11-district board to three districts on a 9-district board, because of redistricting.

Responding to those concerns, Conan Smith said he never liked the tradition of rotating chairs on the board, and felt they should choose the right person for the times. Rabhi said he hoped to set a tone of collaboration and cooperation, and looked forward to working with Dan Smith and other commissioners to help achieve their goals for the county.

Also elected were Alicia Ping of Saline (R-District 3) as vice chair and Felicia Brabec of Pittsfield Township (D-District 4) as chair of the board’s ways & means committee. Dan Smith also dissented on the election of Brabec.

The first meeting of each year includes a review of the rules and regulations that govern the board’s actions. The major change, on a 5-4 vote, was to remove the ability of a commissioner to abstain from a vote. The amendment to strike the rule was put forward by Conan Smith. Others voting in favor of the deletion were Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

The question of abstaining from votes typically relates to resolutions on state or federal issues, over which the county board has no control. This year, the county board already appears to be moving to weigh in on at least one state-level issue. The board called a special working session for Jan. 3 to discuss the state’s new “right to work” law, which was passed during the legislature’s lame duck session late last year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. That meeting will be covered in a separate Chronicle report.

The Jan. 2 board meeting also included an update on negotiations about the county’s contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). The agreement, which hasn’t  yet been finalized, would pay HSHV $550,000 annually to provide animal control services to the county over four years. Of that, $460,000 would come from the county’s general fund. The remaining amount would be paid through contracts with other municipalities that have animal control ordinances: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Pittsfield, Superior and Ypsilanti. County administrator Verna McDaniel said she’s already had discussions with those entities, as well as with the city of Saline.

Some commissioners expressed concerns about the Humane Society contract. Rolland Sizemore Jr. objected to HSHV receiving amounts over $550,000 if new revenue is brought in – because he felt the revenue should come back to the county instead. Ronnie Peterson worried about the additional financial burden that just a few municipalities would bear, and wanted to see every municipality help pay for animal control services. The new contract with HSHV is expected to be finalized later this month, and does not require board approval.

Swearing In and Officer Elections

Because the new board had not yet been sworn in following the end of the 2012 terms, the Jan. 2 meeting was convened by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum. He began by noting his own experiences on county boards during a transition in the number of commissioners. When he was first elected to the board of commissioners in Ingham County – where the cities of Lansing and East Lansing are located – it was just decreasing in size from 21 commissioners to 20. Kestenbaum also was on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners in 2000 when redistricting reduced the number of seats from 15 to 11. [He decided not to run again for county commissioner, rather than compete against the other incumbent Democrat in that redrawn district – Leah Gunn. He then ran for county clerk in 2004, and was re-elected in 2008 and 2012.]

Larry Kestenbaum Washtenaw County clerk, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum holds a meat tenderizer that was serving as a gavel during the Jan. 2 county board meeting. Outgoing chair Conan Smith brought the gavel as a joke for Yousef Rabhi, who was elected chair later in the meeting.

Kestenbaum was highlighting these transitions because the new county board has just nine districts, down from the 11 over the last decade. Kestenbaum was chair of a five-member Washtenaw County apportionment commission, which in May 2011 adopted the new redistricting plan. The change included a decrease in the number of Ann Arbor districts from four to three, and put incumbents Alicia Ping, a Republican, and Democrat Wes Prater into the same district – the new District 3, covering south and southwestern Washtenaw County, including the city of Saline. Ping, a former Saline city councilmember, won the Nov. 6 race against Prater.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years, based on population changes determined by the U.S. census. This is the fewest number of districts on the county board since the 1980s.

At the Jan. 2 meeting, Kestenbaum said that the former commissioners would be missed, and that changing even a few people on the board would create a different chemistry. Of the nine commissioners, all but two – Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) – are incumbents. The other commissioners are Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9).

Kestenbaum implored the board to consider that the work product of the entire body is more important than their individual political gain. He asked them to consider scoring points for the county and the general public, rather than for themselves or their colleagues.

Kestenbaum then read the oath of office: “Do you solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Michigan, and that you will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of the Board of Commissioners in and for the County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, according to the best of your ability.” Commissioners responded: “I do.”

After the swearing-in ceremony, commissioners introduced their family and friends who were attending. Also in the audience was former commissioner Barbara Bergman – and she was introduced by Rabhi as his “second mom.”

Officer Elections: Rabhi Chosen As Board Chair

Later in the meeting, the board also elected its officers for the coming year. Negotiations for these positions occurs privately in the weeks or even months before the actual officer elections are held, and in recent years there has not been more than one person nominated for each leadership role. This year, four positions were elected: Board chair and vice chair, and chairs for the board’s ways & means committee and working sessions. In past years, there were also vice chairs for ways & means and the working sessions, but those roles were eliminated this year.

As anticipated, Rabhi was elected as the new chair of the board, replacing fellow Ann Arbor resident Conan Smith, who has served in that role for the past two years. [Commissioners are elected by the general public to two-year terms.] Rabhi, who was chair of the board’s working session in 2011 and 2012, had announced last year his intent to run for the board chair. Although there was no previous substantive discussion about Rabhi’s candidacy, Smith referred to Rabhi as the “chair elect” in an announcement last month regarding a selection panel for the regional transit authority board appointments, and in subsequent communications had indicated an assumption that Rabhi would be the next chair.

At the Jan. 2 meeting, Conan Smith nominated Rabhi as chair, stating: “I rise from the new 9th district – the strongest, largest, most handsome, most prosperous place in Washtenaw County, and the most educated. And as the wisest in the county, we seek leadership that is kind, just, caring – the kind of leadership that can help us all as individuals succeed as a group, the kind of leadership that can keep our tempers even and keep our spirits high. It is my great honor to nominate for the chair of Washtenaw County commission [sic], Mr. Yousef Rabhi.”

Rabhi received a round of applause, and there were no other nominations.

Outcome: Yousef Rabhi was elected as board chair on an  8-1 vote, with dissent by Dan Smith.

Rabhi thanked commissioners for putting their faith in him to lead the board. “We have some tough issues ahead of us,” he said. “But I think by working all together, we can make some real positive change in this community.”

Also nominated were Alicia Ping as board vice chair, Felicia Brabec as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and Andy LaBarre as chair of the working sessions. There were no competing nominations for these positions.

Outcome: Alicia Ping and Andy LaBarre were unanimously elected board vice chair and chair of the working sessions, respectively. Felicia Brabec was elected chair of the ways & means committee on an 8-1 vote, with Dan Smith  dissenting.

Officer elections are held each January. However, it’s been the board’s custom to elect commissioners to the same leadership roles for two consecutive years, starting with the first year of their two-year terms. So it’s likely that these officers will serve in 2013 and 2014.

Dan Smith, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Washtenaw County board of Commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) take the oath of office on Jan. 2, 2013.

Near the end of the meeting, Dan Smith explained his rationale for voting no. The board has several long-standing traditions that have served all areas of the county – rural and urban – very well, he said. One of those traditions is to ensure that all voices are well-represented in all aspects of county business. And part of that tradition is to alternate the chairship between Ann Arbor commissioners and commissioners from the out-county area. The board didn’t do that this year, he noted.

Smith said it was especially troubling to have another Ann Arbor chair because Ann Arbor districts have declined proportionately to the rest of the districts. Previously, there were four Ann Arbor districts on the 11-district board. Now there are three Ann Arbor districts out of nine total districts. Having another Ann Arbor chair makes it “much more difficult to see a benefit to the many rural areas of the county – the 20 different townships that are scattered throughout the county.”

Smith said it’s also troubling when there’s a collection of three chairs and a vice chair who can get together on their own and discuss county business, because four out of nine commissioners does not constitute a quorum. Previously, the leadership structure of three chairs and three vice chairs prevented the six from gathering separately, he said, because six members of the 11-member board represented a quorum. [Under Michigan's Open Meetings Act, meetings with a quorum must be open to the public.]

Smith observed that there’s nothing illegal about the four board officers getting together on their own, but “it creates a perception that I think is a bit troubling.” He said he wasn’t faulting the officers who had been elected that evening – he had nothing ill against them. But for people who are looking at it from a distance, there might be the perception that things are awry.

He again stated that he was sure everything would be conducted above board – it was simply a matter of perception. “So it’s disappointing to me that we’re starting out a new year and a new board with breaking some of these traditions.” Noting that there’s another tough budget to face with a significant shortfall, Smith said he was hopeful the board could face these challenges together “despite this rough start to the year.”

Conan Smith responded, saying he had a different perspective. He never liked the tradition of de facto rotating chairs on the board. He felt it was better to evaluate the quality of the board’s leadership against the times they were in, and pick people that the board felt would address the issues of the moment. “Really, that’s the appropriate way for this board to work,” he said.

Rabhi represents someone who’s particularly well-suited for the time, Smith contended, adding that it is a smaller board with a lot of new people. Smith told Rabhi: “You’ve been an excellent consensus builder during your two years on the board already, and I think you’re the kind of person that should be the chair.” [Regarding the number of new commissioners, seven of the nine commissioners are incumbents. There are only two newly elected commissioners – Andy LaBarre and Kent Martinez-Kratz. Three of the incumbents – Dan Smith, Alicia Ping and Yousef Rabhi – were elected to their first terms in 2010. Felicia Brabec was appointed in October of 2011 to fill a vacancy left by resigning commissioner Kristin Judge. The board's longest-serving members are Ronnie Peterson of Ypsilanti and Rolland Sizemore Jr. of Ypsilanti Township, who were both first elected in 2000. Conan Smith was first elected in 2004.]

Washtenaw County board of commissioners,  Anne Keesor Photography, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Prior to the start of their Jan. 2, 2013 meeting, the new nine-member Washtenaw County board of commissioners posed for their official group photo, taken by Anne Keesor of Anne Keesor Photography. This photo was taken while commissioners were getting ready for Keesor’s shot. From left, standing: Conan Smith, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Dan Smith. Middle row: Alicia Ping, Rolland Sizemore Jr. Front row: Andy LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi, Felicia Brabec, Ronnie Peterson.

Even though they shared a common city and a friendship, Conan Smith said he didn’t support Rabhi because Rabhi was from Ann Arbor. If Rabhi wasn’t the right person for the job, “I’d support somebody else – and I think that’s the way we ought to be making decisions on board leadership.”

As for the issue about a quorum, Conan Smith said that what actually happened in the past four years while he was board chair is that the three chairs would get together separately – they wouldn’t meet with the vice chairs. Because of that, people who were elected as leadership were exempted from important conversations, he said, and that’s more of a problem.

The way that the leadership is structured now, he said, allows the three chairs and vice chair to meet, to set the direction of the board, to consider the variety of issues that are in front of them, and to bring those issues back to the board. The leadership isn’t empowered to make decisions on behalf of the board, but he expects the leadership team to regularly meet and to work with county administration. “In order to do that, sometimes you need to be able to meet off-line,” Smith said. “That is, frankly, an important consideration when trying to lead a board through complex and possibly contentious issues.”

Rabhi spoke next, saying that some people might perceive Dan Smith’s vote and comments as something personal against him. “Despite commissioner Dan Smith’s concerns of myself being chair, I intend to work with each and every commissioner to move this county forward,” Rabhi said. “That’s really the tone that I will set this year – a tone of collaboration and cooperation, because we all bring different sets of experiences to the table, and we all come from different backgrounds. And that’s a strength, not a weakness.”

Officer Elections: Compensation

Based on increases to compensation that were approved by the board at its Dec. 2, 2012 meeting, the three chairs – Rabhi, Brabec and LaBarre – will each earn a base salary of $18,750. That’s $3,000 more than other commissioners. None of the positions are considered to be full-time jobs.

Also starting this year, commissioners will receive stipend payments based on the number of meetings that a commissioner is likely to attend for a particular appointment. One or two meetings per year would pay $50, three or four meetings would pay $100, and the amounts increase based on the number of meetings. Each commissioner typically has several appointments, so the new system will likely add several hundred dollars to their compensation. Commissioners will be able to waive their stipends by giving written notice to the county clerk. In the past, commissioners were eligible for per diem payments for attending certain meetings, but had to file for those payments after the fact. The stipend payments will be made automatically.

Appointments to various boards, commissions and committees will be made at a future meeting. Rabhi has announced his intent to hold an appointments caucus in order to determine preferences for those appointments.

Revised Board Rules & Regulations

As part of the standard first-meeting-of-the-year action, commissioners discussed a revised set of board rules and regulations that are intended to govern their actions, meetings and other governance issues. [.pdf of revised board rules & regulations, with changes tracked. The document does not reflect amendments made at the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting.]

Commissioners suggested revisions to board chair Yousef Rabhi prior to Jan. 2 meeting, and he reviewed those changes during the meeting. This report highlights some of the main changes.

Revised Board Rules & Regulations: Compensation

At the board’s Dec. 5, 2012 meeting, commissioners approved several changes to their compensation. Those changes included increasing their base salaries from $15,500 to $15,750 annually, paying all three chairs an extra $3,000, replacing per diem payments with stipend payments – which will result in at least several hundred dollars of additional compensation each year – and eliminating the $3,550 flex accounts from which commissioners previously drew their per diem, travel and other expenses.

The board rules and regulations were revised to reflect those changes.

The stipends are based on the number of boards, committees and commissions on which a commissioner serves, and the number of meetings that commissioners are expected to attend. Stipend payments range from $50 per year for groups that meet only 1-2 times annually, up to $1,000 for groups that meet more than 24 times. There are 45 boards, committees and commissions to which commissioners are appointed.

Dan Smith pointed out that the changes to the rules and regulations eliminate the previous $3,550 spending cap that had been associated with each commissioner’s flex account. Now, there is no cap. However, “given the entirety of the rules and the other changes, I’m satisfied with them as they are currently drafted and presented,” he said.

Revised Board Rules & Regulations: Abstaining

A year ago, Dan Smith (R-District 2) successfully convinced a majority of commissioners to add to the board rules the ability to abstain from certain types of votes. The rule, added in February 2012, stated: “Commissioners may abstain from voting on resolutions that express support or opposition and otherwise take no action.” The question of abstaining from votes has related primarily to resolutions on state or federal issues, over which the county board has no control.

Dan Smith’s proposal had occurred in the wake of the board’s final meeting in December 2011, when Yousef Rabhi – a Democrat from Ann Arbor – brought forward a resolution urging state lawmakers to reject HB 4770HB 4771 and “any legislation that codifies discrimination.” That state legislation, which was later signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, removed the ability to extend benefits to same-sex partners. During deliberations on that resolution, Smith and Rob Turner, another Republican commissioner who is no longer on the board, had objected to bringing forward resolutions that were not focused on Washtenaw County issues. They wanted the ability to abstain from voting on such resolutions.

Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Conan Smith (D-District 9).

At the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting, Conan Smith (D-District 9) proposed an amendment to delete the rule that allowed commissioners to abstain. After an extended silence, no other commissioner seconded the motion and Rabhi, the new board chair, declared the motion dead for lack of a second.

Rabhi then asked for any other comments on the rules and regulations. At this point, Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) asked if the board had changed the rule regarding a commissioner’s obligation to vote. Rabhi noted that Conan Smith had just made a motion about that, but nobody had seconded it. He asked Sizemore whether Sizemore wanted to second the motion.

Sizemore asked Smith to restate his motion. Smith explained that he wanted to delete the section that “allows a commissioner not to vote.” His feeling was that when there’s an issue before the board, “the citizens expect you to say yes or no on something, and you should do that.” The board had an experiment with the abstention process, he said, and “I didn’t like the way it worked out. I think it would be better if we just had to vote.”

Rabhi then allowed Sizemore to second the motion.

Dan Smith spoke next, saying he had hoped this amendment “would go away.” He noted that he had done some research and could find only three times during the past year when he had abstained from voting. The first time was on April 4, 2012 regarding a resolution that asked state legislators to halt any bills that would eliminate the state’s personal property tax. “The resolution made some extremely broad statements in it,” he said. Rather than getting into a lengthy discussion and picking at the wording of the resolution, he said he simply abstained.

The second time was on May 2, 2012, on a resolution that expressed support for the U.S. Clean Air Act. Smith noted that it’s a complex piece of federal legislation that has many different ramifications and impacts. That’s why we send representatives and senators to Washington to sort out those issues, he said. The third time was on Sept. 5, 2012, regarding a resolution urging the city of Ann Arbor to use the proceeds from the sale of city-owned land to support affordable housing. He didn’t feel that it’s the county board’s place to direct another municipality on how to use its proceeds.

He noted that he’d spent more time now explaining his reasons for abstaining than the time he’d taken over the course of the year on these items. He felt the rule should remain unchanged.

Sizemore responded, saying that commissioners represent the residents of this county. They were elected to make a stand, “one way or the other,” he said, regardless of whether the issue was local, state or federal.

Conan Smith said that while he believed the commissioners shouldn’t be abstaining, he agreed with Dan Smith that some of the resolutions aren’t germane to county business and don’t affect the county’s budget or operations. It’s important to be hyper-vigilant about those kinds of things coming before the board, he said, because commissioners often don’t take the time to really understand the complexity of the issues. But when there are issues of direct import to county business, he said – if the state legislature or Congress are considering new laws and rules that could impact county operations – “it is important that commissioners make their stances on these things known.”

As an example, he cited the state’s 2011 legislation regarding domestic partner benefits. Washtenaw County was one of the first in the state to adopt benefits for domestic partners, he said, and it’s been a signature characteristic of the county. “Making sure that there’s an on-the-record stance about issues like that is relevant and important to our constituency.” He said if a resolution is not directly related to county business, he’d be one of the first people to ask the board to table it. But if it does affect the county, commissioners should vote on it, he concluded.

Outcome: The rule allowing a commissioner to abstain from a vote was amended out, on a 5-4 vote. Voting in favor of the deletion were Conan Smith (D-District 9), Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

Revised Board Rules & Regulations: Committee Appointments

A new rule was proposed to be added to the section on board committees:


The Chair of the Board shall appoint and the Board shall confirm all individuals appointed to statutory committees and boards, except as otherwise directed by the laws of the State of Michigan.

Curt Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel, explained that this codifies the practice of the board, although it had not previously been written into the board rules and regulations.

Ronnie Peterson pointed out that although he couldn’t recall a nomination that wasn’t confirmed by the board, he felt the language “shall confirm” was too strong. All commissioners are equally elected, he observed, but this language gives the rest of the board no flexibility. He said it had nothing to do with the current chair, but he did not want to give any board chair a rubber stamp on their nominations.

Hedger recommended altering the phrase to “shall confirm by majority vote,” which was agreeable to Peterson and met with no objections from the rest of the board. There was no vote on this change.

Revised Board Rules & Regulations: Oversight of Chair in Directing County Employees

The section on board procedures includes a rule noting that ”Individual members of the Board of Commissioners do not have the authority to direct the work of County employees; only the Board as a collective body speaks for the County and provides policy direction to the County Administrator and employees.”

Another rule in that section addressed how violations of this rule would be handled. The item was revised to include language that clarifies how a violation by the board chair would be handled [added language in italics]:

Concerns with violations of this rule shall be addressed by the Chair of the Board of Commissioners, unless the alleged violation involves the Chair, in which case the matter will be brought to the attention of the County Administrator who shall work with Board leadership to resolve the issue.

Revised Board Rules & Regulations: Overall Vote

Outcome: The vote on approval of the overall board rules and regulations, as amended, was unanimous.

Humane Society Contract Update

Conan Smith asked county administrator Verna McDaniel for an update on the county’s contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV).

Verna McDaniel, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: County administrator Verna McDaniel and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8). He has not yet ended his fundraiser, which will result in cutting off his long hair to raise money for charity. That’s likely to happen later this month.

McDaniel said she felt the county had reached an agreement with HSHV, which would provide animal control to the county for $550,000 annually over four years. Of that, $460,000 would come from the county’s general fund. The remaining amount would be paid through contracts with other municipalities that have animal control ordinances: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the townships of Pittsfield, Superior and Ypsilanti. McDaniel said she’s already had discussions with those entities, as well as with the city of Saline. No formal contracts have yet been finalized, however.

McDaniel reported that she had been interviewed earlier in the day on this topic by Lucy Ann Lance on Lance’s radio talk show, which airs on WLBY AM-1290. [The interview is also available online.]

Curt Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel who has also been working on these negotiations, clarified that there has been no gap in service, even though HSHV’s previous contract with the county expired on Dec. 31. The two parties agreed to extend the current contract with a letter of intent, to serve as a stopgap until a new contract is finalized. That gave them more time to draft “a more meaty contract that will make sure we cover all the nuances,” he said.

Conan Smith thanked McDaniel and Hedger for handling the negotiations. He noted that last year, the board had discussed several options for raising revenues related to animal control. Saying he didn’t want to let up on pursuing those options, he asked Andy LaBarre, as the new chair of the working sessions, to consider adding those to future agendas. One option relates to civil infractions – setting up fines for residents who don’t buy licenses for their animals.

Felicia Brabec asked what would happen if other municipalities pay more, and the total amount is greater than $550,000 – would those extra revenues go to the county, or to HSHV? The Humane Society would get those extra revenues, McDaniel said.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed some concern. He didn’t understand why additional money would be given to HSHV. Previously, he said, the board had been told that $500,000 was the amount that would be paid to HSHV – now it’s $550,000 over four years.

McDaniel noted that the county is obligated for no more than $500,000 – that’s all the county would pay, even if there were no other available revenues from other sources. That’s the amount that commissioners authorized the county to spend, in a vote taken at the board’s Nov. 7, 2012 meeting. McDaniel also said the county didn’t give up the revenues it might receive from a civil infractions ordinance.

The civil infractions ordinance was also approved by the board at the Nov. 7 meeting. It gives the county more flexibility to designate violations of other county ordinances as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor. [.pdf of ordinance] In the context of animal control, enforcement of the county’s dog licensing ordinance is low because the current penalty – a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine – is relatively harsh. The idea is that enforcement would improve if a lesser civil infraction could be used.

Sizemore said that his concern over a four-year contract is that the county will be negotiating a new contract with the unions that represent county employees. [Current union contracts end on Dec. 31, 2013.] His implication was that union negotiations would be more difficult if so much is being paid to HSHV.

McDaniel reported that the HSHV contract will include an out clause, allowing either the county or HSHV to get out of the contract after the first year.

Ronnie Peterson, whose district covers the Ypsilanti area, said he hoped that the contracts with other municipalities hadn’t been set in stone, and that the agreements would be brought to commissioners for review. Many of these communities are struggling financially, he noted, and now they would be faced with an additional burden. He hoped that the discussion about payments to HSHV would include all the communities in the county, not just those that had been mentioned.

The contentious debate about how to pay for mandated and non-mandated animal control services has been going on since 2011. For background in addition to the extended board discussion on Nov. 7, 2012, see Chronicle coverage: “Task Force: Negotiate with Humane Society,” ”Next Steps on Animal Control Policy,” “Work Continues on Animal Control Policy,” and ”Revenue Options Eyed for Animal Control.” More information related to this process is also posted on the county’s website.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Special Working Session on “Right to Work” Law

As newly elected chair of the board’s working sessions, Andy LaBarre proposed holding a special working session on Thursday, Jan. 3 to discuss how “right to work” legislation will affect the county. The legislation was passed by the lame duck state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in mid-December.

Peggy Rabhi, Andy LaBarre, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Peggy Rabhi, the mother of commissioner Yousef Rabhi, talks with commissioner Andy LaBarre, who is holding his son Declan prior to the start of the county board’s Jan. 2 meeting.

In an email sent to commissioners and commissioners-elect on Dec. 30, Yousef Rabhi – who was elected board chair earlier at the Jan. 2 meeting – announced the intent to call a special session: “Second, there is a group of Commissioners (myself included) that wish to call a Special Working Session on January 3rd at 6:00 p.m. Technically, this could have been done last year as there was more than 1/3 of the Board that desired to call the meeting. However, Curt [Hedger, the county's corporation counsel] advised that it would be best to call the meeting from the floor of the BOC meeting. The meeting would be for the purpose of discussing the implications of the ‘Right to Work’ legislation on the County.”

The state law – supported by the Republican-controlled House and Senate and the Republican governor – made it illegal to require employees to financially support unions as a condition of their employment. It’s viewed by Democrats as a way to undercut support for labor organizations that have historically backed the Democratic Party. The legislation, which will take effect in March of 2013, received national attention. It followed a failed ballot initiative by labor to protect collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution. That effort – Proposal 12-2 – was not supported by a majority of voters in the Nov. 6 election. [links to Public Act 348 of 2012 and Public Act 349 of 2012]

The majority of the county government’s 1,321 employees are represented by labor unions. All but two of the nine county commissioners are Democrats. The Republican commissioners are Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3). During the Jan. 2 meeting, both Smith and Ping told their fellow commissioners that they were interested in focusing on how the county might be affected, both in terms of the county government employees as well as the impact on the local economy. However, both also indicated that they did not want the board to advocate for the repeal of the legislation – Ping characterized such an effort as “a big waste of time.”

LaBarre, an Ann Arbor Democrat, said the session was intended to be broad based, but could include a discussion about how the board would like to voice the sentiment of the county on this legislation.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to hold a special working session on Jan. 3 to discuss the impact of right-to-work legislation.

The working session will be covered in a separate Chronicle report.

Resolutions of Appreciation

Alicia Ping, a former Saline city councilmember who represents District 3, brought forward two resolutions of appreciation for Saline officials: (1) Gretchen Driskell, who had served as Saline mayor for 14 years, and (2) Allan Grossman, who recently retired as Saline’s city attorney after 52 years of service. [.pdf of Driskell resolution] [.pdf of Grossman resolution]

Driskell, a Democrat, was elected on Nov. 6 to the state House of Representatives in District 52, defeating incumbent Republican Mark Ouimet, a former Washtenaw County commissioner. Ping is also a Republican.

Neither Driskell nor Grossman attended the Jan. 2 meeting.

Outcome: Without discussion, both resolutions of appreciation were passed unanimously.

Present: Felicia Brabec, Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The ways & means committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.] (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 commentary is held at the beginning of each meeting, and no advance sign-up is required.

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One Comment

  1. January 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm | permalink

    So, as I understand the new rule codifying appointments by the Chair, the circumstance under which Conan Smith appointed the Washtenaw County members of the RTA board without consulting the rest of the board will no longer occur.

    Question: is there a cap on the amount of stipend income that commissioners can earn? The mention of a $1000 annual amount is rather startling. My concern about this use of stipends is that it introduces a possibility of patronage into committee appointments. Even with the practice of having these challengeable by the rest of the board, it places undue power in the hands of the chair to reward individuals by giving them lucrative appointments. As I understand the revision, the commissioners are no longer obligated to inform the administration as to whether they attended a meeting or not. Thus awarding a committee assignment is a direct payment.