The Ann Arbor Chronicle » marriage license it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In it for the Money: Equal Marriage Wed, 28 May 2014 11:33:03 +0000 David Erik Nelson Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing:  If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice.

Background: Marriage Equality in Michigan

In October of 2013, when the DeBoer/Rowse v. Snyder case was filed, there was an expectation that federal judge Bernard Friedman would make a decision on the merits of the case based on the pleadings, without a full trial. This is called a “summary judgement.” Both the plaintiffs [DeBoer/Rowse] and the defendants [Governor Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette in their capacities as executors of the state's laws] had requested Friedman make such a judgement.

But he refused to do so because the “rational basis” of the state’s justification of the Michigan Marriage Amendment (which amended our state constitution to stipulate that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union”) is itself questionable. His denial of the request for summary judgement is worth a quick read.

My favorite sentence from the denial has to be this one, taken from Lawrence v. Texas (2003): “Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause.” Friedman’s stated goal in forcing the case to trial was to permit (or, if you prefer, oblige) both parties to offer the most rigorous presentation of their case. However, several lawyers have independently told me that they believe Friedman forced the case to trial specifically to expose the state’s “pathetic” (their word) defense of MMA to the most intense possible scrutiny – and for that scrutiny to become a matter of public record, adding to the swiftly growing body of work dismantling common claims used to defend discriminatory marriage laws.

So, long story short: DeBoer and Rowse got their day in court and prevailed: Friedman deemed the MMA unconstitutional. Because same-sex marriage is such a hot-button, the expectation was that Friedman would place a stay on his decision – essentially hitting the pause button on canceling the MMA. He did not.

In retrospect, Friedman’s decision not to issue a stay makes a lot of sense, based on his deeply rational scrutiny of the matters of law surrounding the case itself. Generally a stay is issued for one of two reasons: Either because immediate execution of the judge’s findings would cause “irreparable harm,” or because the party requesting the stay seems likely to prevail on appeal based on the merits of the case presented. Friedman’s ruling makes it pretty clear that: (1) no one demonstrated that similarly gendered people saying “I do” has ever harmed anyone, irreparably or otherwise; and (2) the case the state presented had very little merit.

On the merit of the state’s case, I like Friedman’s characterization of one of the state’s four “expert” witnesses as “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” About the four taken together, Friedman wrote that they “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

But what really counts is that Friedman immediately voided our constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage – at the end-of-business on a Friday. The state simply had no time to get someone down to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati – the next court up the ladder toward the SCotUS – to request a stay.

And Saturdays are great days for weddings.

Going to the Chapel

What does it take to get married in the state of Michigan? Well, you basically need four things:

  1. A pair of opposingly-gendered, currently unmarried adult humans
  2. A correct and complete Marriage License Application form
  3. $20
  4. Three days

In the last several years, Item (1) has been the sticking point here. Back in 2004 a group of well-funded national bigots convinced a minority of Michigan voters to approve the Michigan Marriage Amendment (aka, the “MMA”). This nuked an existing separate-and-not-really-equal-but-better-than-nothing arrangement we had here in Michigan, whereby gender-opposed folks could get “married” – and accrue all the liabilities and benefits associated with that legal status. Meanwhile gender-similar folks could join in a “civil union” – and accrue some, but not all, of the liabilities and benefits associated with the “married” status.

One might characterize the MMA as unequally targeting a minority group and unconstitutionally stripping them of rights and responsibilities, in much the same way one might characterize grass as green and the sky as blue.  That is, the characterization would arise from immediately evident facts easily observed by reasonable minds – which is to say the great mass of the people. Michigan lawyers in the audience will see what I did there, clever, clever boy that I am – the rest of y’all might wanna Google “Justice Cooley” and “reasonable minds.”

So, assuming that you, Dear Reader, are not a bigot, then you are likely wondering what needs to happen to fix this fundamental injustice written into our state constitution? The voiding of MMA by either judicial, legislative, or voter action is obviously the start – but it’s only the start, because if something is legal, but functionally impossible, then we haven’t really restored justice; we’d be patting ourselves on the back for being so progressive without making any actual progress.

In order to move forward here in a meaningful way, we have do more than turn the Wheels of Justice. We need to turn the Wheels of Bureaucracy.

We have a tendency to lambast bureaucrats as, at best, ineffectual pencil-pushers with an unspellable title, and at worst pitiful and infuriating tin-pot dictators of tiny demonic fiefdoms, but they really are neither of these things, which is why I want to draw attention to them here and now.

They aren’t gremlins, or unglorified data-entrists; they are our legal conscience.

What it Takes to Get Married

Except for some common edge cases, here’s the basic process: A pair of otherwise unmarried adult humans with mismatched genitals show up at their county clerk’s office with proper ID. They fill out a single-page marriage license application and pay a $20 fee (unless neither are county residents, at which time the fee is $30). They wait for three days. (State law actually stipulates “A marriage license shall not be delivered within a period of 3 days including the date of application.”) After the three days have expired, the happy couple just need to get the license solemnized (i.e., have a judge or mayor or rabbi or whatever mumble some words and sign off on the deal). Boom! Married!

But let’s say you don’t want to wait three days. Maybe you have a plane to catch, or maybe you and your life partner need to rush things a little in order to dash through the brief gap in a stupid, hateful, and fundamentally unjust law. Don’t worry! The law allows for counties to issue licenses immediately, forgoing the waiting period, provided “the person applying for the license … pay a fee.”

When Larry Kestenbaum took office in 2004, that fee was $5. As it turns out, that was a terrible price point.

Brief Economic Tangent

People mostly don’t care about the three day wait; a marriage license is valid for 33 days after issuance, and applying for a marriage license is one of those things that everyone involved in your wedding is going to hound you about. It’s in the game plan, and thus “rush service” is just not a service many folks need under normal operating conditions. When accelerated processing is not an option, they don’t even notice. But once they hear that they can have their marriage license immediately for just $5, plenty of folks will say “Well, why not?” and drop the fiver.

In other words, at that price it’s an impulse purchase, just like the candy bars at the grocery store checkout. What human needs a 250-Calorie sugar boost in order to make it from the register to their car carrying bags upon bags of food? Perhaps some small subset of poorly-managed diabetics, but that hardly justifies the display, and that isn’t the reason it’s there: When we can immediately gratify some need cheaply, it takes an act of will not to do so.

So, the low price of expedited marriage licenses was actually incentivizing the purchase of something these folks didn’t really need, and wouldn’t have missed had it been unavailable.

The thing is, preparing marriage licenses is not the same as leaving a box of Snickers on the counter. Prepping a marriage licenses is time consuming and legally fraught; screw-ups can only be corrected by court order. So marriage license applications are only handled by workers specially deputized to do so, which will tend to be your more experienced (i.e., most efficient) staff. While a more skilled worker is monopolized rushing a marriage license for folks who are in no hurry, the line is backing up with other folks in need of quick fixes (e.g., picking up notarized birth certificates, completing DBA renewals, being told they are at the wrong counter and need to go to the second floor of a different building, etc.)

When Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum took office in 2004, it was immediately obvious to him that it costs more than $5 to rush a marriage license, so he bumped the fee up to $50, with the dual purpose of: (1) ensuring that the fee covered the added workload; and (2) disincentivizing rush orders. And it worked great – under normal operating conditions.

But there are times when the county clerk might reasonably expect (or even encourage) a surge in expedited marriage licenses – like, let’s say there’s a comet headed straight for earth. Or maybe we’re blessed with a very brief suspension of our fundamentally bigoted constitutional ban on certain subsets of minority marriages. In such emergency scenarios the county clerk isn’t necessarily eager to soak the desperate for $50 a pop. Or, at least, our county clerk, Larry Kestenbaum, is not eager to soak the desperate for $50 a pop, because our county clerk is a mensch.

So back in 2013 our county clerk made arrangements to be able to call “fee holidays” in situations where reasonable minds might need a rushed Marriage License at no fault of their own – for example, on occasions when the county offices will be closed for four days, or during a very temporary ellipses in our relentless legalistic bludgeoning of people based on a few stray clauses in an ancient religious text that we otherwise almost completely ignore.

During a fee holiday the $50 rush fee drops to one cent. (The Chronicle report on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting of Feb. 19, 2014 details the discussion and approval of the fee holiday.)

There’s No Box on the Form

So the judge has (temporarily) fixed the problem of the “mismatched genitals mandate”, and the clerks have fixed the “time and money” problems. One catch remains: Check out Michigan’s standard-issue marriage license application.

You’ll note that this form cannot be correctly completed by a couple that isn’t male-female. Heck, owing to its sort of narrow expectations about who does what with his surname upon marriage, I actually know several heterosexual couples who couldn’t technically complete this form completely and accurately.

Anyway, the problems posed by a form that demands one male and one female applicant (no more, no less) were not lost on the county clerks. So last year a group of clerks, led by Kestenbaum, contacted the State Registrar for Michigan’s Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Glenn Copeland. They asked Copeland to consider issuing a new gender-neutral marriage license application and marriage license forms. These were designed by a committee of county clerks, and ultimately were distributed by the state – which then abruptly whipsawed, claiming that the gender-neutral forms they’d issued had not been approved and thus couldn’t be used.

Interestingly, Michigan law doesn’t stipulate that the state has to approve these forms in any manner, just that they have to issue them. The statutory mandate is that “blank forms for a marriage license and certificate shall be prepared and furnished by the state registrar appointed by the director of the department of community health to each county clerk of this state in the quantity needed.”

If this seems like a minor point, bear in mind that some county clerks were arguing that same-sex marriages couldn’t be performed if the form didn’t provide for it – which is sort of bass-ackward, because the county clerk’s sworn duty is to facilitate the execution of the law. And for those hours between Friedman’s decision and the District Court of Appeals’ subsequent stay of that decision, the law was that any two Michganders who were of age and not already married could contract marriage.

“[The Law] didn’t require that the state be officially backing the form at the time we are using the form,” Kestenbaum said. “This is a question of 14th amendment equal protection under the law; I don’t think the form should stand up as a barrier.” Not surprisingly, Kestenbaum made a point to redistribute the state-issued gender-neutral marriage application forms far and wide.

Please note well: Assuring that all citizens were equally protected under the law, in the most functional day-to-day sense, fell not to legislators or judges, but to standard-issue pencil pushers in a small offices you never even think about.

March 22, 2014: Washtenaw, Ingham, Oakland

All of the pieces were in place on Saturday, March 22, 2014: The MMA was not in effect and the forms were fixed; forward-looking county clerks had even gone so far as to make sure their fee structure was prepared to fairly accommodate extraordinary circumstances.

But of Michigan’s 83 county clerks, only four made arrangements to provide services on Saturday, March 22. These were: Larry Kestenbaum in Washtenaw County (home to Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, me, and probably everyone reading this), Barbara Byrum in Ingham County (which includes Lansing and Michigan State University), Lisa Brown in Oakland County (immediately adjacent to Detroit and among the ten highest-income counties in the U.S., and second most-populous county in the state, with about 13% of the state’s population), and Nancy Waters in Muskegon County (a small, rural county in West Michigan).

All told these four clerks and their staffs issued 329 marriage licenses on March 22. Washtenaw County alone – which was only able to stay open for a half-day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but was well staffed with deputized workers and a bevy of holyfolks ready to solemnize – processed 74 expedited marriage licenses that day. By comparison, Kestenbaum noted in an email that the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office has “averaged around seven [non-rush marriage licenses] per business day for the last several years.” Based on population size you’d expect the entire state to issue about 200 licenses on your average business day.

That highly productive Saturday was well covered by the media in Washtenaw, Ingham, and Oakland Counties; these are easy places for them big city papers to reach and pigeonhole. These are large (and largely supportive), diverse communities with large, well-staffed county offices.

Muskegon County is a little different, but instructive.

March 22, 2014: Muskegon

Muskegon County did not open their offices on Saturday, March 22. Nancy Waters, their county clerk, was much less confident of her community’s support than the other clerks, and so she made separate arrangements to hold what amounted to “office hours” in a nearby Unitarian church. There she was joined by the church’s pastor, Rev. Bill Freeman, and a deputized volunteer legal secretary. She informed the chair of the county board and the county administrator of her plans on Friday, but in the interest of avoiding conflict did not plan to do anything in any county building, use any paid county employees, or rely on any public resources.

Working from 9 a.m. until 3:50 p.m. – when the federal appellate court in Cincinnati issued its stay, thus reinstating the discriminatory MMA – Waters, Freeman, and their unnamed volunteer issued and solemnized 48 marriage licenses. That’s just shy of 15% of the total number of marriage licenses issued that day statewide.

They worked, without breaks, without lunch. When they ran out of HIV brochures – which county clerks are required by law to give to couples seeking a marriage license – Waters announced that she’d have to stop because they could not legally process the paperwork unless they could truthfully attest to the pamphlet having been issued. Upon hearing this, and of their own volition, freshly-wed couples took it upon themselves to collect and redistribute these pamphlets, so that there would be an ample supply. After all, the law says that couples need to receive this pamphlet in order to be issued a license; no one says a married couple has to keep it. I have no idea where my and my wife’s HIV pamphlets are. For that matter, I am a touch foggy as to where our marriage license is.

Operating from  9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. also meant that Waters was face-to-face with a line of eager fiancees when she was told by the Detroit Free Press that a stay had been issued and she had to stop issuing licenses and marrying couples.

“There were people crying, there were people in line. One person – not in line, one of the family members – came up to me and said ‘Well, couldn’t you go on and issue these last few? Who would know?’ And I pointed to me, to my heart, and said ‘I would know.’ And I want to be able to say ‘I have followed the law all the way through this process.’”

Earlier in our conversation Waters had explained:

When this is over, and people hear the whole story, they’ll see that this was a real commitment on my part for following the law, and I would remind so many people who called me [before hand] and were opposed to it, and didn’t want me to do this, that up until 1967 interracial marriages were not legal [in much of the United States], and clerks were not allowed to issue marriage licenses if a black and a white came in to get a marriage license… There’s been a little backlash [to Muskegon County's March 22 "office hours"], but there’s been a lot of favorable support from people that I didn’t know, from people that have sent me little personal notes saying, ‘Even though I’m heterosexual, I want to commend you, I’m so proud of you, I salute you.’ And, you know, the few that were not in support or favorable were so minor that I don’t even think about it.

Bending the Arc

I love and admire the Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr., but I’ve taken him to task for favoring this passive, objectless grammatical construction when he said:

The Arc of the Moral Universe is long but it bends toward Justice.

That’s not just a grammatical peeve. In this case my gripe is rhetorical, because as King lays it out, the implication is that, given time, History will end up in a place of Justice and equality all on its own. Ice will melt. Fog will lift. And the Arc will bend toward Justice.

I do not believe this to be true.

The Arc of History is not going to bend toward Justice all on its own.  It will bend toward Justice if, and only if, we get up every morning and put a little effort into bending that bastard. Not a ton, just a little.

Larry Kestenbaum, Nancy Waters, Barb Byrum, Lisa Brown – they got up early on a Saturday morning, enlisted the help of friends and colleagues, put their hands to the Arc and pulled that dogleg straight. I want this column to be a lasting testament to their mettle.

Why did Nancy Waters go it alone and work her ass off to marry as many couples as possible on March 22? She was quite explicit when we spoke: “It was an opportunity for me, as a county clerk, to follow my oath of office, which said ‘Follow the law.’” But following the law wasn’t super popular where she serves, which is why she went forward independently, relying on no public resources.

But what gave her the courage to move forward?

“I certainly looked to Larry Kestenbaum. I have looked to him from the day that I became a county clerk in 2008, when I was elected. … Larry Kestenbaum had everything in order; that’s why I do look to him … and was so pleased for his very, very, very strong leadership in this significant process.”

Waters was of the opinion that the Oakland and Ingham county clerks had also looked to Kestenbaum for guidance. It was a contagion of courage, spreading like whooping cough in a California hippie school.

But where did Kestenbaum get this overabundance of courage? He got it from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, who had pledged their support. And they pledged their support, because they knew we had their backs.

Is the virtuous feedback-loop clear?

Bending the Arc need not be a grand effort, like rustling up ministers and churches and volunteers to help process minority marriage applications. Nancy laid hold of the Arc because she knew Larry was doing so, and Larry did so because he’d done the ground work, and because he lives in a region of the state full of us, and knew that we wanted someone to straighten out the offensive jag that a minority of our fellow voters crammed into the Law in 2004.

And Larry knew we wanted this not just because we’d voiced support in obvious ways – with emails and notes and votes – but because this is a part of Michigan where, if our kid calls a teammate a “fag” for dropping the ball, we yell at our damn kid and give him “consequences.” We’d no sooner sit idly while a co-worker called a lame reality show “gay” then let a man beat a child in the street.

There is shit we just don’t tolerate, and discrimination against homosexuals has joined that shit list.

And our queer notions are spreading. Every time we put our hands to the Arc, a few more folks join us – because of herd mentality, because of peer pressure. Bending the Arc in these little daily ways is the joyous inverse of a lynch mob.

Midway through our conversation, Kestenbaum told me this:

One thing that I hadn’t really thought about was that these specific scenes – something happens, same-sex marriage becomes legal, and couples show up, and you have this wonderful happy time, and the examples of many of these people, who’ve been together for years or decades and have children – those scenes have helped drive support for same-sex marriage. I think that’s absolutely the case. …There’s that famous line about ‘the Supreme Court reads the election returns‘ – I think that public opinion is moving quickly on this, and the Supreme Court does not want to be left on the wrong side of it. So I’m still pretty optimistic [about how the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court will ultimately adjudicate this issue.]“

And I’m optimistic about the rest of us, because it’s true: None of us want to be left on the wrong side, and our powerful need to be in the right will drive us to be sure that no one is left out in the cold.


[1] I know it’s going to begin to seem like I’m being snarky with all this talk about genitals in reference to the Michigan Marriage Amendment – which dictates “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union.” But in all honesty, once you start to actually think about the ramifications of those words, it’s really hard to determine what the MMA wants from marriage license applicants. The law doesn’t define what “man” and “woman” mean in Michigan, so we’re left with the “reasonable person” standard, at which time we’d assume that if someone shows up expressing a given gender and with a birth certificate and driver’s license indicating they have that gender, then that’s the case. But check out footnote 9 here, where the Michigan Court of Appeals finds that “Under the most obvious and commonly understood meaning of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ a postoperative male-to-female transsexual is not a ‘woman.’” The note goes on to explain that’s because the surgery has not changed the fact that the individual has an X and Y chromosome, not two X chromosomes, because, in day-to-day life, the first thing any of us checks when deciding which pronoun to use is whether or not someone has a Y chromosome in the mix.

Snark aside, this finding strikes me – a reasonable person – as a pretty wacky interpretation of what a “reasonable person” would infer when introduced to a human with a female name, female demeanor, female genitals, and “FEMALE” printed on her birth certificate and driver’s license (Michigan law allows these records to be revised and sealed by folks who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery). Call me crazy, but I would be satisfied that such an individual was “female” and just get on with my life. In fact, judging by what I hear from folks married in Michigan more recently than I, if the state does anything to actually enforce the MMA, it goes no further than checking the sex listed on the applicants’ drivers’ licenses and birth certificates: There is no mandatory genital check or genetic testing, no mandate for a doctor’s affidavit. In other words, the state appears to be perfectly content to issue licenses that it knows to be “unconstitutional” under current Michigan law and its own inane common-law findings – which is hardly the sort of thing we’d expect “reasonable people” to do. [All credit and much love to Anne Marie Miller for digging up the legal reference for me.]

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Washtenaw: Marriage Sat, 22 Mar 2014 02:38:29 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Detroit Free Press reports that the Washtenaw County clerk’s office will open on Saturday, March 22, to issue 60 same-sex marriage licenses, in the wake of Friday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman that struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum: “We’re not typically open, but basically the Board of Commissioners strongly urged me to be open tomorrow.” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed an emergency motion requesting a stay on Friedman’s ruling. [Source]

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County OKs Marriage License “Fee Holiday” Thu, 20 Feb 2014 01:11:10 +0000 Chronicle Staff A proposal giving authority to the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office to reduce the fee for expediting marriage licenses under certain circumstances – from $50 to 1 cent – was approved by the county board of commissioners at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting. The vote was 5-1, with dissent by Kent Martinez-Kratz. Three commissioners – Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent.

Currently, the $50 fee is charged if applicants want to waive the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period. The resolution passed on Feb. 19 allows the county clerk, consulting with the county administrator, to establish a ”fee holiday” on the day preceding a period during which the office’s vital records division would be closed for four or more days, or when an unusual number of marriage license applicants are expected to appear. During a “fee holiday,” the charge for immediately processing a marriage license would be 1 cent.

County clerk/register of deed Larry Kestenbaum told commissioners that last year, he had publicly stated his intent to waive marriage license fees when there was an expectation that a federal judge would strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages. Kestenbaum said his authority to do that was subsequently challenged, and he wanted to address that in part through this resolution. State law requires that a fee set by the county board must be charged.

Martinez-Kratz objected to the change, saying that fees should be applied equally to all applicants – whatever the amount. He also didn’t think the criteria for applying the waiver was clear.

According to a staff memo, waivers of the waiting period are requested between 5-15 times each month. Without a waiver, marriage licenses cost $20 per couple for Michigan residents, and $30 per couple for out-of-state residents – but the marriage must occur within Washtenaw County. More information is available on the county’s website.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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County Board Seeks Details on Consolidation Mon, 11 Jul 2011 13:52:55 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 6, 2011): Much of the discussion at this month’s county board meeting focused on the proposed merger of three departments, creating a new office of community & economic development.

Mary Jo Callan, Tony Van Derworp

Mary Jo Callan talks with Tony Van Derworp before the start of the July 6, 2011 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. Callan is overseeing the consolidation of three county departments, including the economic development and energy department, which Van Derworp leads.

In the works for over a year, the consolidation would combine the office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. The goal, according to county managers, is to cut costs by eliminating duplicated services in the face of declining revenues, while finding ways to deliver those services more efficiently to residents in need. The number of full-time employees in the merged departments would drop from 40 to 32, though most of those displaced workers will likely be moved to other county jobs. In total, about $500,000 in annual savings is expected from the merger.

While generally supportive of the change, several commissioners asked for additional details, and expressed frustration that they were provided new information – including a business plan – just hours before the meeting began. The proposal was originally on the agendas for initial approval at the Ways & Means committee meeting and final approval at the regular board meeting that same night, but commissioners decided to remove it from the board meeting agenda. They’ll likely consider it for a final vote at their Aug. 3 meeting. The consolidation will also be one of the topics at the July 11 Ann Arbor city council working session – the office of community development is a joint city/county unit.

Two other items that have received considerable – often contentious – discussion at previous meetings were passed with virtually no comment. Both relate to police services that are provided under contract to local municipalities by the sheriff’s office. On the first item, the county board approved the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator in a lawsuit filed against the county in 2006 over the cost of police services. The recommendation states that Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township should pay the county $749,427 for police services provided in 2006. The boards of those townships are expected to vote on the recommendation this week. If approved, it could lead to the closure of that legal battle.

On the second related item, the county board gave final approval to the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 – is unchanged from this year, but will rise in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures involved more than a year of discussion between the sheriff’s office, other county officials and leaders of local municipalities that contract for these services.

Several other budget-related issues were addressed during the July 6 meeting, including initial approval to an agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I, the union that represents 13 public health nurses and nurse coordinators in the county’s health services department. It’s the first of 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle, and is expected to achieve an annual savings of $132,000. In total, the county hopes to see about $8 million in labor concessions for the two-year budget cycle, to help address a projected $17.5 million deficit.

Commissioners also voted to raise the fee for waiving the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period, increasing it from $5 to $50. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, whose office processes marriage licenses, assured the board that the vast majority of applications are willing to wait the three days, and won’t incur this additional cost for expediting the process. Conan Smith joked that he had hoped Kestenbaum would come forward with a package discount deal – for marriage licenses and concealed weapons permits.

Police Services Lawsuit

In a step that could lead to ending a lawsuit filed against the county in 2006, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted to approve the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator. The recommendation sets $749,427 as the amount owed by Ypsilanti Township and August Township to the county for police services provided in 2006. That was the year those townships, along with Salem Township, filed a lawsuit against the county over the price of contract deputies. Salem Township reached a settlement with the county in 2010.

The bulk of the recommended payment – $732,927 – will come from Ypsilanti Township, which had contracted for 44 sheriff deputies in 2006. In addition to approval from the county board, the recommendation would also need to be voted on by the boards of both townships. Those meetings are expected to occur next week. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Vote Coming on Police Services Lawsuit"]

County representatives previously indicated they were seeking around $2 million. The county is not seeking payment for its legal expenses related to the lawsuit, which are estimated to be just over $1 million.

Police Services Lawsuit: Commissioner Comments

Conan Smith, the board’s chair, was the only commissioner to comment on this agenda item. He said he was grateful the county is settling this issue, which he noted had caused a lot of consternation and contention between the county and these contracting units. He expressed gratitude to everyone who came to the table and helped make this closure possible. It sets them on the right path for negotiations over police services contracts and future partnerships, he concluded.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator at both their Ways & Means committee meeting and their regular board meeting.

Police Services Pricing

On the agenda was a resolution giving final approval to the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The police services steering committee recommended setting the price in 2012 for a police services unit (PSU) at $150,594. Initial approval by the county board had been given at its June 1 meeting.

Alicia Ping, Jerry Clayton

Commissioner Alicia Ping talks with sheriff Jerry Clayton in the lobby of the county administration building prior to the start of the July 6 county board meeting.

The price in 2012 will remain unchanged from the 2011 rate of $150,594, which was a 4% increase over 2010 rates. In each of the following three years, the price per PSU increases about 1%: to $152,100 in 2013; $153,621 in 2014; and $155,157 in 2015.

In late 2010, the committee brought forward a recommendation to the board that set the cost of providing a PSU at $176,108. At its Dec. 1 meeting, the county board voted to accept that amount, with the understanding that commissioners would need to make a much harder decision – about the price that the county would charge for a PSU – at a later date. The difference between the cost of a PSU and the amount charged – roughly $25,500, based on current figures – would be covered by the county.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton attended Wednesday’s meeting, but there was no discussion on this item and commissioners did not ask him to answer any questions about this recommendation. The board had been briefed by Clayton at a May 19 working session.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to give final approval to the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015.

Departmental Merger: Community & Economic Development

A major consolidation of three county departments – the office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department – was given initial approval by the board of commissioners at their July 6 meeting. A final vote is expected at the board’s Aug. 3 meeting. The changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. [.pdf draft budget summary] [.pdf draft business plan]

If the reorganization gets final approval, Mary Jo Callan, director of the office of community development, will lead the new office of community & economic development. The goal is to cut costs by eliminating duplicated services in the face of declining revenues, while finding ways to deliver those services more efficiently to residents. The new department is expected to have a non-general fund budget of about $14.7 million – when federal stimulus funds were available, the three departments had been bringing in about $29 million in non-general fund revenue. In addition, about $1.66 million would be allocated to the merged department from the county’s general fund.

Several personnel changes are part of the restructuring, which would eliminate 11 positions and create 3 jobs – for a net loss of 8 jobs. In addition, there would be 20 job reclassifications, 5 title changes and 1 position held vacant.

Commissioners were briefed on the restructuring at a May 5, 2011 working session, and also discussed it at a June 28 agenda briefing. At that briefing, county administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that all but one person had been given a “soft landing” within the county’s organization.

Departmental Merger: Public Commentary

Andy LaBarre, vice president of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the proposed reorganization.

Greg Dill, Andy LaBarre

Greg Dill, left, talks with Andy LaBarre, vice president of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. Dill is director of administrative services for the sheriff's office.

Consolidating these departments makes great sense, he said, and will help the county better serve its citizens. It holds promise as a model for other communities, schools and local governments to set aside traditional structures in the interest of the community as a whole.

The chamber did something similar in 2010, when the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti chambers merged into one regional entity, LaBarre said. Members and leaders of the chambers understood that it was time to reduce costs and maximize benefits by embracing regionalism and consolidation. “That time is still before us,” he said.

In particular, the merger of these three county departments will create a stronger, more efficient approach to regional economic development, LaBarre said. The chamber applauds the move and looks forward to partnering with the new office, he concluded.

Departmental Merger: Commissioner Discussion

Commissioners had several questions about this proposal. It was originally on the agendas for initial approval at the Ways & Means committee meeting and final approval at the regular board meeting that same night, but commissioners decided to remove it from the board meeting. They’ll likely consider it for a final time at their Aug. 3 meeting.

Wes Prater began the discussion by noting that commissioners had received new material just that afternoon. There was a lot of information, he said, and he had a lot of questions about it. He clarified that there would be a net loss of eight jobs after the consolidation.

Mary Jo Callan acknowledged that the information has been a moving target. The employee count will drop from 40.35 full-time equivalents (FTEs) to 32.1 FTEs.

Prater also asked for details on the span of control – the number of supervisors and the positions they oversee – that would result after the consolidation is completed.

Kristin Judge asked about the line item for in-kind contributions. It went from about $1 million last year to only about $63,000 this year – why did it drop? Kelly Belknap, the county’s finance director and interim deputy administrator, said that in-kind contributions refer to county money or staff time that’s required as matching funds for federal grants. For 2010, all of the information is finalized. This year, information is still incomplete because the year hasn’t ended – they’ll have the final numbers after the 2011 audit, she said. And for 2012, the county still doesn’t know what grants they’ll be awarded.

Judge then asked for clarification about the total savings that were expected to result from the consolidation – it wasn’t clear from the materials they’d been provided, she said. Belknap reported that staff estimated about $500,000 in savings, from reducing general fund allocations to the new department, and requesting higher cost allocation plan (CAP) dollars from grant funds. [CAP refers to the amount charged to each department for things like the county attorney, information technology and administration.]

Judge said that for her to support this proposal on the final vote in August, she needed a much greater level of detail. She also asked about the proposed job reclassifications, wondering why it seemed that they were all going up a pay grade or more. Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, explained that several jobs were being reclassified from non-union to union positions, and the pay grades weren’t equivalent. For example, a pay grade of 15 for a union job might equate to a pay grade of 8 for a non-union position.

After confirming that the board wouldn’t be taking a final vote that night, Ronnie Peterson then spoke at length about his concerns related to the consolidation, but said he’d save most of his questions for the August meeting. He said his statements weren’t directed at the current managers, but rather at the way the departments have evolved over many years.

Caryette Fenner, Nancy Heine, Ronnie Peterson

From left: Caryette Fenner, president of the AFSCME local 2733, the largest union representing county employees; Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052; and county commissioner Ronnie Peterson.

He said he believes they lost the war on poverty long ago, and that’s especially true on the east side of the county. [Peterson represents District 6, covering Ypsilanti and part of Ypsilanti Township.] Given the decline of the auto industry, the east side is struggling, Peterson said. That’s why he’s committed to the Eastern Leaders Group, which advocates for economic development, and why he supported the Act 88 millage that funds ELG and Ann Arbor SPARK, the area’s economic development agency. The eastern part of the county needs jobs and neighborhood stabilization, Peterson said. “We don’t need more cheese and butter lines.”

It’s time to devote energy and resources to fighting poverty, Peterson said. No one has spoken about how funding will be allocated to do that, as a result of this consolidation, he added. He requested more details about how program activities would be funded, and said he appreciated that the final vote would be delayed until August.

Alicia Ping asked why the line item for supplies went from $542,040 in 2010 to $43,390 in the 2012 budget. Callan explained that the 2010 amount had been misclassified – about $500,000 of that amount should have been listed in the line item for the senior nutrition program, not supplies.

Ping also said she had a difficult time seeing where the savings would come from in this reorganization. Belknap told commissioners that the finance staff would provide a detailed supplemental budget that reflects those savings. Callan added that they have the information – commissioners had received detailed budget documents earlier this year. It just wasn’t in the summary that commissioners received for Wednesday’s meeting.

Callan also noted, in response to a question from Judge, that about 90% of the positions in the merged departments would not be funded out of the county’s general fund. Rather, those jobs would be supported through grant funding. Judge asked for a breakdown of how many positions would be supported through the general fund compared to non-general fund positions.

Dan Smith requested a better explanation about how the organizational savings would be achieved, and suggested also providing an organization chart for commissioners.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he strongly suggested that Callan meet with individual commissioners between now and Aug. 3 to address their questions. Commissioners agreed to email all their questions to the county administrative staff, and answers would be sent out to the entire board.

Outcome: Commissioners gave initial approval to the reorganization, with a final vote expected at their Aug. 3 meeting.

Nurses Union Agreement

Commissioners held an executive session early in their meeting to discuss a collective bargaining agreement. When they emerged, they added a supplemental agenda item to give initial approval to an agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I. The agreement covers the period from July 1, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2013.

The agreement affects 13 public health nurses and nurse coordinators in the county’s health services department. It’s the first of 15 union agreements being negotiated as part of the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle, and is expected to achieve an annual savings of $132,000. In total, the county hopes to see about $8 million in labor concessions for the two-year budget cycle, to help address a projected $17.5 million deficit. [There are 17 unions representing the county workforce. In January 2011, the county reached agreements with two other unions – the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) – for a four-year period through 2014.]

According to terms of the agreement with the nurses union, union members will not receive across-the-board pay raises in 2012 or 2013. However, if eligible, they will continue to receive automatic “step” increases that are part of all union contracts. [On an employee’s anniversary date – typically the date of their hire – they get an automatic increase to the next step in the salary grade.]

The nurses will bear a greater share of health care expenses, pension contributions and retiree health care contributions. Details include:

  • Co-pays will increase. For example, co-pays for emergency room visits will increase from $50 to $250. An office visit co-pay will be $40.
  • Union members will now pay deductibles, and a percentage of the cost of their medical expenses, up to an annual maximum. Prescription drug co-pays will also be increased under the new agreement.
  • As of Jan. 1, 2012, all employees under this contract will contribute 8.5% to the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS), a defined benefit plan. [In defined benefit plans, retirees receive a set amount per month during their retirement.] They previously contributed 7.5%.
  • Union members will begin contributing 0.5% toward their retiree healthcare. They previously did not make contributions.
  • The number of annual “banked leave” days – similar to unpaid furlough days – will increase from 6 to 12.
  • Longevity pay will be eliminated for new hires after Jan. 1, 2012. Longevity pay is a benefit provided to union employees based on years of service with the organization (generally after 5 years of service). Employees would receive between 3%-9% of their prior year’s wages, paid out either in a lump sum payment or bi-weekly throughout the year.

In addition, tuition reimbursement and the “excessive vacation payout” program will be eliminated as of Jan. 1, 2012.

The contract includes a “me too” clause that would provide parity if another union contract is negotiated for higher wages or benefits. There’s also a “reopener” contingency – if the county sees at least a 2% revenue gain by the end of 2012, the contract could be reopened to consider wage increases.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously voted to give initial approval to the collective bargaining agreement with the Michigan Nurses Association – Unit I. The board is expected to take a final vote on the agreement at its Aug. 3 meeting.

Trial Court Renovations

The board was asked to approve a resolution authorizing up to $1 million for the next phase of the Washtenaw County trial court consolidation of services at the downtown courthouse facility, where the juvenile court recently relocated.

Phase two entails renovation of the first floor of the courthouse. Commissioners had previously received a detailed briefing on this project from Donald Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenew County trial court, at their Jan. 19, 2011 board meeting. The downtown courthouse is located at the corner of Huron and Main.

Trail Court Renovations: Commissioner Discussion

Dan Smith asked for more details about a line item of $100,000 for furniture and equipment.

Dave Shirley, the county’s facilities manager, said existing furniture from the Platt Road location is being used as much as possible. But some items are needed – such as filing cabinets – due to the different configuration of the downtown courthouse. They’ll also need additional chairs, since the Platt Road facility didn’t get the ergonomic furniture upgrade that the rest of the county facilities received a few years ago.

D. Smith asked whether they could buy gently-used furniture, and Shirley said the county did that as much as possible.

Outcome: Commissioners voted to approve up to $1 million for the next phase of the Washtenaw County trial court consolidation.

Marriage License Waiting Period Waiver Fee

The board was asked to approve a $50 fee for waiving the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period. According to a staff memo, the current waiver fee of $5 does not cover the costs of the Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds in “interrupting other services to immediately fulfill a marriage license waiver request.”

County clerk Larry Kestenbaum attended Wednesday’s meeting and told commissioners that the $5 fee is too nominal – some counties charge as much as $100, he said. It would also apply to only a few applications. “This fee would only affect people who are in a hurry.”

Marriage License Waiting Period Waiver Fee: Commissioner Discussion

Barbara Bergman wondered why they weren’t raising the fee to $100 as well. Kestenbaum told her that his staff originally recommended an increase to $25, but he was proposing $50. The amount is in the purview of the county board to set, he noted, adding that he wouldn’t object to a $100 fee.

Bergman moved to amend the resolution to increase the amount to $100, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Brian Mackie, Larry Kestenbaum

County prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie, left, talks with county clerk Larry Kestenbaum during a break at the July 6 board of commissioners meeting.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he wouldn’t support raising the fee to $100 because getting married “is supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life.” It already cost a lot of money to get married, and the county shouldn’t add to that.

Ronnie Peterson noted that it cost a lot of money to be born, get married and “certainly to die.” He recommended approving Kestenbaum’s original suggestion of $50, which Peterson said was respectful of the current economic conditions. It makes a statement about providing the expedited service at a cost that was somewhat uncomfortable, he said, but not too much.

Conan Smith began his comments by joking that he had hoped Kestenbaum would come forward with a package discount deal – for marriage licenses and concealed weapons permits. He then noted that this was actually an important increase, and not arbitrary. As the county reduces its staff and asks employees to adhere to their work plan, that approach gets compromised by last-minute requests, he said. It complicates the staff’s work. The increase is a disincentive for citizens to make such requests, and results in helping employees be as efficient as possible. Smith said he also appreciated that the standard fee for the three-day processing is unchanged.

Kestenbaum observed that processing a marriage license requires great attention to detail. All of the information must be correct: “It is not a frivolous thing at all.” C. Smith noted that it would be unfortunate if the paperwork resulted in someone inadvertently marrying the wrong person. “That’s not our problem,” Kestenbaum quipped.

Wes Prater also supported the increase to $50, saying that people spend much more than that on other parts of their wedding.

Dan Smith confirmed that the standard fee – to process the license in three days – hasn’t changed. Kestenbaum explained that more than 95% of the licenses are handled this way. Normally, he added, a wedding involves planning, and getting a license is part of that.

D. Smith then asked a series of questions to elicit more details about the process, prompting Sizemore to say, “You’re asking a lot of questions – is there something we don’t know?” [Smith is single.]

Alicia Ping asked how much the standard license costs. It’s $30, Kestenbaum said – an amount set by state statute that’s been unchanged for more than 40 years.

Ping disagreed with Prater and others, and felt that for many people, $50 was a lot of money. However, she said she understood that $5 was too low.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved increasing the fee for expediting the marriage license processing to $50.

Drain Projects in Ann Arbor

Initial approval for five projects planned by the county’s water resources commissioner had been given at the board’s June 1 meeting. On Wednesday, the projects were before the board for final approval.

The projects, which require the county to back bond payments totaling up to $6.54 million, are all located in Ann Arbor: (1) Allen Creek drain cistern installation, downspout disconnection and tree planting – up to $330,000; (2) County Farm drain stream bank stabilization – up to $1.2 million; (3) Malletts Creek drain/Burns Park porous alley; Malletts Creek cistern installation, downspout disconnection, and tree planting; and Malletts Creek stream bank stabilization – up to $3.48 million; (4) Swift Run cistern installation, downspout disconnection, and tree planting – up to $75,000; and (5) Traver Creek cistern installation, downspout disconnection, and tree planting; and Traver Creek stream bank stabilization – up to $780,000.

Outcome: Commissioners voted to approve the drain projects in Ann Arbor, without comment.

Hearing Set on Agreement with Energy Office

Commissioners were asked to set a public hearing for its Aug. 3 meeting regarding a proposed interlocal agreement with the Southeast Michigan Energy Office Community Alliance (SEMRO). The Ferndale-based nonprofit (SEMRO) provides technical services to the county in identifying and implementing federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant projects.

The energy office is a division of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. County commissioner and board chair Conan Smith is CEO of the alliance. The board voted initially to join the energy office at its March 17, 2010 meeting. Smith abstained from that vote.

Outcome: Without comment, the board voted to set a hearing on Aug. 3 regarding an interlocal agreement with SEMRO.

Proclamation on National Training Institute Week

On the agenda was an item proclaiming July 30 through Aug. 5, 2011 as National Training Institute Week in Washtenaw County. The proclamation recognized the estimated $5 million economic impact of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) for the Electrical Industry – its annual training week brings about 2,000 people to this area. [See 2009 Chronicle coverage: "Electricians Juice Up Ann Arbor"]

The proclamation was introduced and read by commissioner Rob Turner, who was instrumental in convincing the NJATC to move its annual training week to this area. Turner described how he had worked with Greg Stephens, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 252, and others to convince NJATC to hold its training in Washtenaw County, and how the community has reached out to make the NJATC members feel welcome.

Wes Prater added that credit goes to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention and visitor bureaus too.

Outcome: The proclamation declaring July 30-Aug. 5, 2011 as National Training Institute Week in Washtenaw County was passed unanimously.


Commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Scott Menzel to the Washtenaw County Workforce Development Board to represent the educational sector for a term expiring Dec. 31, 2012. Menzel is the new superintendent for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Commissioner Dan Smith commented that he knew Menzel when Menzel was superintendent of the Whitmore Lake school district, and Smith was glad that he’s brought his skills to WISD.

The board also appointed Robert Gray as a representative of the general public to the Washtenaw County Health Code Appeals Board/Public Health Advisory Committee for a five-year term, expiring Dec. 31, 2015.

Nominations for appointments to county boards and commissions are made by the board chair, Conan Smith, but require approval by the board of commissioners.

Misc. Communications

There are several opportunities for commissioners and the administration to share information during the meeting, as well as four slots for public commentary.

County administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that she’d be working with staff to develop a pro-active plan in light of state legislation that will end cash assistance to welfare beneficiaries who’ve been receiving aid for more than 48 months. About 900 people will be affected in Washtenaw County, she said. They’re working with Cynthia Maritato, director of the state Department of Human Services – and former director of the Washtenaw County department of human services – to see who will be affected by this law. She hopes to bring a plan to the board in early September.

Conan Smith noted that Nelson Meade, one of the founders of the county’s parks & recreation commission who has served on that commission for more than 35 years, is being honored at the national level as a public official of the year. Smith said it was a well-earned honor, and gave a “hearty congratulations” to Meade for his service.

Kristin Judge congratulated the county’s information technology department, noting that they had moved up from 8th place to 4th place in a national ranking of county IT departments. The ranking is from the 2011 Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties (NACo). [The award will be presented on July 16 at the NACo annual conference in Portland, Oregon. Judge, a member of NACo's justice and public safety steering committee, will be accepting the award on behalf of the county.]

Misc. Communications: Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge spoke during the four opportunities available for public commentary. He called for the board to add an agenda item that would address the impact of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget, and urged commissioners to support a recall effort of Snyder, his administration and Republican legislators. It’s the only responsible thing to do for anyone who advocates for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised citizens, he said.

Partridge also called for reforms and changes to county government, and advocated for having an elected county administrator. [The Washtenaw County administrator is a position appointed by the board of commissioners.] Partridge objected to the redistricting decision earlier this year that resulted in decreasing the number of districts represented on the board from 11 to 9 – a change that will take effect for the 2012 election. He said it might be necessary to pursue legal action on this issue, and he urged commissioners to ask the county’s corporation counsel to look into the matter.

Public Commentary: Commissioner Response

Following Partridge’s first public commentary, Barbara Bergman – a Democrat from Ann Arbor – said that Republicans and Democrats on the board worked together, with the goal of bettering services for the county’s residents. They aren’t there to take political stances, she said, and it’s not their business to pass resolutions criticizing or supporting one political party or individual. [Partridge walked out of the boardroom midway through Bergman's remarks, and returned when she finished talking.]

Regarding Partridge’s comments about redistricting, Conan Smith pointed out that Brian Mackie was in the audience – and that Mackie, the county’s prosecuting attorney, was one of the five members of the apportionment commission. [As part of a mandated redistricting process keyed to the U.S. census results, the apportionment commission voted in May to adopt the 9-district plan.] Smith, a Democrat, said the commission had met frequently, and those meetings were public. The maps were displayed prominently in advance, he said, and the process had been extremely accessible. They did the job they were charged to do, Smith said, in a manner that comported with the law. He would not recommend that they encourage the county’s corporation counsel to get involved.

Dan Smith, one of three Republican county commissioners, also weighed in. He noted that he was the only county commissioner who attended every meeting of the apportionment commission. He agreed with Conan Smith that the process was handled properly, saying he saw no inappropriate actions.

[The Chronicle attended several meetings of the apportionment commission. The final plan that was adopted had been posted for public view shortly before the commission's final meeting. From coverage of the commission's final meeting on May 11:

The final vote was for a 9-district plan drafted by county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie and revised with input from other Democrats on the apportionment commission, including [county clerk Larry] Kestenbaum and county treasurer Catherine McClary. It gained unanimous support from the full commission. [.pdf file of adopted 9-district county map]

Redistricting occurs every 10 years, based on population changes determined by the U.S. census. Until this week, only two plans had been offered: one for 9 districts, another for 12. However, just hours before Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting, several new plans were submitted for consideration. In total, 11 plans were considered by the commission – for 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 21 districts. One resident during public commentary said he’d attended several previous meeting, and that it was shocking to arrive and see so many new plans on the day of the final vote.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Kristin Judge, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Rob Turner, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, and Dan Smith.

Absent: Yousef Rabhi

Next regular board meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. [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 comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting. In addition, the board will hold a July 21 working session on the 2012-2013 budget, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the same location.

Next working session: Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. The working session will focus on the 2012-2013 budget.

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Fee Hike OK’d for Expedited Marriage Licenses Thu, 07 Jul 2011 01:09:41 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its July 6, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved the adoption of a $50 fee for waiving the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period. According to a staff memo, the current waiver fee of $5 does not cover the costs of the Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds in “interrupting other services to immediately fulfill a marriage license waiver request.”

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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