Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 20, 2013): In a meeting with few new action items, the board gave final approval to a resolution protesting the state’s right-to-work law, and spent more than an hour in executive closed session to discuss collective bargaining strategies.
The resolution taking a stance against the state law was approved on a 6-2 vote, with dissent from the board’s two Republican commissioners – Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3). Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) was absent. Though Smith had stated his objections on Feb. 6, when an initial vote had been taken, there was no discussion on the item at the Feb. 20 meeting.
The resolution directed the administration to negotiate new four-year contracts “to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union security provisions.” Current contracts with most of the 17 unions representing county employees expire at the end of 2013. New contracts, if completed before the right-to-work law takes effect in March, would not be required to comply with the new law, which makes it illegal to require employees to support unions financially as a condition of their employment.
Negotiations with the unions began earlier this month.
In other action at the Feb. 20 meeting, the board appointed Dan Smith to the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission – the third county commissioner to be appointed to that 10-member board. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about having too many commissioners serve on that entity, noting that Smith was filling a slot designated for the general public.
Yousef Rabhi, who as board chair made the nomination, responded to Peterson’s comments, saying that he and Smith had discussed this issue – because Smith had the same concerns as Peterson. Rabhi assured Peterson that the commission will continue to provide opportunities for citizens to serve, and that the slot filled by Smith would remain designated as one for the general public for future appointments. Five members of the general public currently serve on the parks & rec commission.
In communications to the board, Rabhi noted that he planned to form a task force to explore establishing a county land bank. A land bank is a mechanism for the county to take temporary ownership of tax- or mortgage-foreclosed land while working to put it back into productive use. The board had previously voted to establish a land bank at its Sept. 1, 2010 meeting, but never took the next step of funding it or getting approval from the state. Only three commissioners from that period – Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Conan Smith – still currently serve on the board.
Among the other items handled at the Feb. 20 meeting included: Resolutions of appreciation for two Chelsea organizations – Purple Rose Theatre and Chelsea Lanes; a final vote to authorize borrowing up to $40 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all Washtenaw County jurisdictions; and final approval to add the Detroit Region Aerotropolis board to the list of boards, committees and commissions that are eligible for commissioners to receive stipend payments.
The Feb. 20 meeting was attended by several students, including nursing students from the University of Michigan who were observing the proceedings as part of a psychiatric nursing course.
Commissioners were asked to give final approval to a resolution opposing Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation, with a clause that directs the county administration to renegotiate union contracts. Initial approval had been given on Feb. 6, with a 6-1 vote. The dissenting vote at that meeting cast by Dan Smith (R-District 2). Absent at that Feb. 6 meeting were Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3).
In addition to condemning the right-to-work law and urging the state legislature to pass SB 95 and SB 96 – bills that would repeal the law – the resolution also “directs the county administrator and the director of human resources to engage in expedited negotiations, as requested by the unions, with the goal of reaching four (4) year agreements to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union security provisions, as well as enter into a letter of understanding separate from the existing collective bargaining agreements for a period of ten (10) years.”
This same approach was authorized by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s board at its Jan. 17, 2013 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "AATA OKs Labor, Agency Fee Accords"]
The controversial right-to-work law was passed late last year by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The law, which takes effect in March, will make it illegal to require employees to support unions financially 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. On the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, seven of the nine commissioners are Democrats.
Unions represent 85% of the 1,321 employees in Washtenaw County government, through 17 different bargaining units. The largest of those units is AFSCME Local 2733.
Several commissioners have been vocal advocates in opposition to the new law. Those views were aired on Jan. 3 with a lengthy discussion of the right-to-work issue. [Chronicle coverage: "County Board Weighs Right-to-Work Response"]
On Feb. 20, Dan Smith (R-District 2) asked that the resolution be pulled out of the consent agenda to be considered separately. There was no discussion on the item, but a separate roll-call vote was taken on it.
Outcome: On a 6-2 vote, the resolution related to right-to-work issues was passed. Dissenting were Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3). Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) was absent.
At its Feb. 6 meeting, when the resolution received initial approval, the board held a closed session that lasted nearly three hours, for the purpose of discussing labor negotiation strategy. On Feb. 20, at the end of their meeting commissioners again met with staff for a closed session on collective bargaining, which lasted about 90 minutes.
Dan Smith, a Republican county commissioner representing District 2, was nominated to the county parks & recreation commission for the remainder of a three-year term, ending Dec. 31, 2014. He had previously served two years on that commission, through Dec. 31, 2012.
He had not been reappointed in the initial round of appointments to WCPARC that were made earlier this year. Other commissioners appointed to WCPARC at the county board’s Jan. 16, 2013 meeting were Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5).
In a separate resolution on Feb. 20, Thomas Miree was nominated to the Area Agency on Aging 1B for a two-year term ending Dec. 31, 2014. The resolution noted that Miree had been the only applicant for this position.
Miree had previously been appointed to the AAA 1B in December of 2011, for a two-year term. Pete Simms of the county clerk’s office, who handles the application process for the county board appointments, clarified for The Chronicle that the AAA 1B board had changed its bylaws last year so that terms for its citizen representatives – one from each county in the agency’s geographic region – would have terms ending at the same time, on Dec. 31, 2014. So the agency asked the Washtenaw County board to reappoint Miree for a new two-year term, Simms explained.
Simms said that the position had been reposted as a formality, but that Miree was the only applicant. According to the agency’s website, Miree serves as the AAA 1B board’s vice chair.
Chronicle readers might recognize Miree from previous reports about the city of Ann Arbor’s intent to put a dog park in West Park, across from the New Hope Baptist Church. Miree, a trustee with the church, had spoken during public commentary earlier this year at the city’s park advisory commission as well as at city council, advocating against putting a dog park in that location. The city ultimately decided to look for another spot for a dog park.
Appointments: Board Discussion
The opening on WCPARC was designated for the general public. That concerned commissioner Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), who spoke at length about the importance of involving citizens on the parks & recreation commission. Peterson said his comments were not a criticism of Dan Smith – characterizing their relationship as a good one. While it’s important to have a liaison between the county board and WCPARC, Peterson cautioned against having too many county commissioners serve on WCPARC. He wanted to ensure that the position remained designated for the general public, even though it would be filled at this point by a county commissioner.
By way of background, this was the membership of the 10-member parks & recreation commission, prior to Dan Smith’s appointment:
- Bob Marans, president (general public)
- Patricia Scribner, vice president (general public)
- Nelson Meade, secretary (general public)
- Jan Anschuetz (general public)
- Janis Bobrin (general public)
- Rolland Sizemore, Jr. (county commissioner)
- Conan Smith (county commissioner)
- Evan Pratt (county water resources commissioner – mandated)
- Fred Veigel (county road commissioner – mandated)
- Vacant (general public)
At the Feb. 20 meeting, Yousef Rabhi, who as board chair made the nomination, responded to Peterson’s comments. Rabhi said that he and Dan Smith had discussed this issue – because Smith had the same concerns as Peterson. Rabhi assured Peterson that the commission will continue to provide opportunities for citizens to serve, and that the slot filled by Smith would remain designated as one for the general public.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved appointing Dan Smith to WCPARC and Thomas Miree to the Area Agency on Aging 1B board.
Changes to Stipend List
At their Feb. 20 meeting, commissioners were asked to give final approval to change the board rules and regulations that they had adopted on Dec. 5, 2012. The amendment, initially approved on Feb. 6, 2013, was to change the list of boards, committees and commissions that are eligible for stipend payments, adding the Detroit Region Aerotropolis board to the list and removing the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). The stipend for service on the aerotropolis will be $100.
Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had been appointed to serve on the aerotropolis at the county board’s Jan. 16, 2013 meeting. Sizemore’s appointment on Jan. 16 came in the context of the annual county commissioner appointments made at the start of each year. [.pdf of 2013 appointments listing]
The original list of eligible boards, committees and commissions for which stipends are paid was approved at the county board’s Dec. 5 meeting, but the aerotropolis had not been included in that list.
At that Dec. 5 meeting, commissioners had voted to alter their compensation to 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.
In the past, commissioners had to request per diem payments for their work. Now, stipend payments will be made automatically, unless commissioners waive their stipends by giving written notice to the county clerk. According to the county clerk’s office, Dan Smith (R-District 2) is the only commissioner who has waived all of his stipends. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) does not receive any stipends because he was not appointed to any boards, committees or commissions.
Outcome: Without discussion, commissioners unanimously voted to approve the change in the stipend list.
Delinquent Tax Borrowing
On the agenda was a final vote to authorize borrowing up to $40 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions. [.pdf of delinquent tax resolution] Commissioners gave initial approval on Feb. 6, 2013, when county treasurer Catherine McClary had been on hand to make a presentation and answer questions.
After March 1, taxing jurisdictions – including cities, townships, schools systems and libraries, among others – turn their delinquent taxes over to the county, and are reimbursed for that amount. The county treasurer then assumes responsibility for collecting these delinquent taxes. This is a standard procedure that’s conducted annually at this time of year. The borrowed funds are used for cash flow purposes, to fund operations for the first half of the year.
This year, the estimated amount of delinquent taxes is about $25 million. At the Feb. 6 board meeting, McClary told commissioners that she expects the actual amount to be lower than that. The exact amount won’t be determined until the middle or end of March. The notes will likely be issued in April or May, she said. McClary also pointed out that the resolution limits the amount that can be borrowed to $40 million, down from a limit of $45 million last year.
McClary did not attend the Feb. 20 meeting, and there was no discussion on this item.
Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the delinquent tax borrowing resolution.
Allen Creek Drain Project
Commissioners were asked to authorize backing bonds for a drain project along Miller Avenue in Ann Arbor – in the Allen Creek drainage district – with the county’s full faith and credit. The board had given initial approval on Feb. 6, 2013.
The backing is for up to $1.58 million in bonds for the project, which will be repaid through a special assessment against the city of Ann Arbor. The project is being handled by the office of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner, led by Evan Pratt. It’s the first project brought forward by Pratt, who took office in January.
According to a staff memo, the funds will be used “to clean out, widen, deepen, straighten, tile, extend, or relocate along a highway, construct branches, relief drains, or connections to the Miller Avenue portion of the Allen Creek Drain to reduce downstream flooding and improve water quality to increase the public health benefit.”
Pratt had attended the Feb. 6 meeting, but was not on hand for the Feb. 20 session.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the drain project, with no discussion.
Sewer Debt Refinancing
Final approval to refinance debt for a sewer system on the county’s west side was on the board’s Feb. 20 agenda. The refinancing, which is intended to save more than $280,000 in interest payments, got initial approval at the county board’s Feb. 6, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of Feb. 20 memo and resolution]
The resolution authorizes the sale of refunding bonds that would be used to pay the remaining principal on existing bonds that were sold in 2004. That year, the county sold $5.115 million in bonds to help Lyndon and Sylvan townships pay for the sewer. Of that, $2.25 million remains to be paid.
However, the bond sale now is expected to be about $990,000 – an amount that’s lower than indicated in the original Feb. 6 resolution. According to a Feb. 20 memo from county water resources commissioner Evan Pratt and Daniel Myers, director of public works, Lyndon Township has decided to pay off all of its remaining debt and will therefore not participate in the new bond sale. In addition, Sylvan Township will pay $225,000 to reduce its part of the debt.
The resolution that commissioners considered on Feb. 20 for final approval had been changed from the Feb. 6 resolution, to reflect this updated information.
The project built sewers at Cavanaugh, Sugar Loaf, Cassidy, Crooked, and Cedar Lakes. It’s funded through special assessments on property around those lakes and payments by the Sugar Loaf Lake State Park and Cassidy Lake State Corrections Facility.
This sewer system is separate from a controversial water and wastewater treatment plant project in Sylvan Township. For more background on that project, see Chronicle coverage: “County Board OKs Sylvan Twp. Contract.”
John Axe of Axe & Ecklund, a Grosse Pointe Farms firm, is the county’s bond counsel and attended the Feb. 20 meeting. However, he did not formally address the board during the public portion of its meeting.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the sale of refunding bonds.
Recognizing Purple Rose, Chelsea Lanes
Two Chelsea organizations – Purple Rose Theatre and Chelsea Lanes – were recognized for their support of the community at the Feb. 20 meeting. Resolutions of appreciation were brought forward by Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), whose district includes the city of Chelsea.
The Purple Rose Theatre – founded by the actor Jeff Daniels, who lives in the area – is a nonprofit professional theater located in downtown Chelsea. The resolution of appreciation cites several contributions, including the theater’s weekly Wednesday matinee held for the community, and its partnerships with local businesses and entities like the Chelsea District Library. [.pdf Purple Rose Theatre resolution]
Chelsea Lanes, a bowling alley owned by Eddie Greenleaf III and located at 1180 S. Main, was commended for its support of the SRSLY community coalition, and for hosting many community events and fundraisers. [.pdf of Chelsea Lanes resolution]
The resolutions noted that Chelsea Lanes received the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Small Business Award, while Purple Rose Theatre received the chamber’s 2012 Large Business Leadership Award.
No one from either organization attended the Feb. 20 meeting, and there was no discussion on these items.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the resolutions of appreciation.
3-Way Tech Agreement
Washtenaw County commissioners were asked to give final approval to amend a three-way agreement with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor.
The three-way accord – an interagency agreement for collaborative technology and services (IACTS) – is meant to provide a way to procure and maintain common technology platforms and services centrally. Commissioners had given initial approval to the changes on Feb. 6, 2013.
The modification to the agreement allows for adding other entities into the agreement in a more streamlined way. It gives each founding member the ability to add new participants administratively, without modifying the agreement itself. The original IACTS was approved in May of 2011. [.pdf of IACTS amendment]
The Ann Arbor city council approved the amendment at its Feb. 4, 2013 meeting.
Washtenaw County already provides certain IT services to other local entities – like the city of Ypsilanti, Dexter’s fire department, and the 14B District Court – although they aren’t yet parties to the IACTS agreement. Another entity that might participate in the IACTS is the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
Andy Brush, the county’s IT manager, attended the Feb. 20 meeting but did not formally address the board.
Outcome: Without discussion, the board unanimously approved amendments to the IACTS.
Three items related to grants and programs administered by the county’s office of community & economic development (OCED) were on the Feb. 20 agenda for final approval.
The items are: (1) the Michigan Works! system plan for 2013 [.pdf of 2013 MWSP]; (2) $20,000 in federal funding (Community Services Block Grant discretionary funds) to conduct a needs assessment of the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, supplemented with $5,000 in county matching funds; and (3) $20,000 in federal funding (Community Services Block Grant discretionary funds) for tax preparation services to low-income customers, in partnership with Avalon Housing, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County, Housing Bureau for Seniors and Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.
These items had received the board’s initial approval at a meeting on Feb. 6, 2013.
Outcome: Without discussion, the board unanimously approved these OCED grant-related items.
Communications & Commentary
During the evening there were multiple opportunities for communications from the administration and commissioners, as well as public commentary.
Communications & Commentary: Land Bank
Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) announced that he planned to put together a task force to “take a serious look” at establishing a county land bank. He said he wanted to make sure that commissioner Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), who represents the Ypsilanti area, is involved in that effort, along with the county treasurer’s office and the office of community & economic development. He invited any other commissioner who wanted to participate to let him know. He said he hoped they could move quickly, because a land bank could have a potentially big impact on local communities, including on the eastern side of the county.
Conan Smith (D-District 9) expressed support, noting that the board and staff had worked on this issue a couple of years ago. Even though the economy is starting to recover nationally and across Michigan, he said, there are still struggles related to foreclosure – particularly on the county’s east side, in the Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township area. Those issues would be well addressed by a land bank. The challenges of structure and funding still exist, Smith said, adding that “we never were able to resolve that.” So it’s good to have a task force that could develop a strategy that meets the board’s interest as well as the interests of the county treasurer, he said.
After consulting with corporation counsel Curtis Hedger about the process for creating a task force, Rabhi indicated he would bring a formal recommendation to the board in the near future to form the land bank task force.
By way of background, a land bank is a mechanism for the county to take temporary ownership of tax- or mortgage-foreclosed land while working to put it back into productive use. “Productive use” could mean several things – like selling it to a nonprofit like Habitat for Humanity to rehab, or demolishing a blighted structure and turning the land into a community garden.
The board has made attempts in the past to start a land bank. The board actually formed a land bank in the summer of 2009. But after commissioners were unable to resolve issues related to governance and funding, they voted to dissolve the land bank in March of 2010. Only three current commissioners were on the board at that time: Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Conan Smith.
At its Sept. 1, 2010 meeting, the board voted to revive the land bank. However, the board never took the next step of funding it or getting approval from the state.
For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Banking on a Land Bank” (July 8, 2009 board meeting); and discussions during the county board meetings on March 17, 2010, July 7, 2010 and Aug. 4, 2010.
Communications & Commentary: Students
Several students attended the Feb. 20 meeting, and were asked by commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) to introduce themselves. They were students from Skyline High School fulfilling a class assignment, and nursing students from the University of Michigan who were observing the proceedings as part of a psychiatric nursing course. This detail drew laughs from commissioners, who appeared to appreciate the implication.
Communications & Commentary: Thomas Partridge
There was only one speaker during the two citizens participation slots at the Feb. 20 meeting – Thomas Partridge – who spoke during both opportunities for public commentary.
He raised concerns about the local impact of possible sequestration at the federal level. He called on the board to pass resolutions to recall elected officials who are neglecting their responsibilities to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable residents, and to labor unions. Among those who should be recalled, Partridge said, are Gov. Rick Snyder, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje, and certain members of the county board, whom he did not identify by name.
Partridge also urged the board to get serious about addressing job creation, affordable housing and affordable transportation needs.
Present: Andy LaBarre, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.
Absent: Felicia Brabec.
Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, March. 6, 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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