Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 6, 2012): Several action items at the most recent county board meeting related to public health, but the one that drew the most discussion did not require a vote: A new program by the public health department to ban the sale of synthetic drugs.
Commissioners were briefed by Dick Fleece, the county’s top public health official, about the new effort to eliminate the sale of synthetic marijuana – known as “spice” and sold legally as K2, Yucatan Fire and other brand names – as well as other synthetic drugs. The “carrot-and-stick” approach will encourage businesses to remove the products voluntarily, Fleece said, and highlight that decision with a decal that stores can use to indicate compliance. But if businesses don’t comply, the county has the authority to issue a public health order against them and, if necessary, get a court injunction to force compliance.
While commissioners acknowledged that synthetic drugs are dangerous – effects can include hallucinations, aggression, paranoia, and seizures – there were some questions for Fleece about why the county is targeting these particular products, which are sold legally. Fleece indicated that there’s heightened concern among residents and coverage of the issue in nearly every media outlet nationally. Some commissioners expressed skepticism about the approach, indicating a preference for a broader educational campaign about the dangers of legal and illegal substances.
Other public health items on the June 6 agenda included hiring Alice Penrose as the county’s new medical director, and approving the application for a state grant to pay for water quality monitoring at five local beaches. The board also appointed 15 members to the new Washtenaw Food Policy Council, and approved the application for federal funding of a summer meal program for low-income children.
Commissioners also voted to schedule a special working session on June 14 to discuss a four-party public transit agreement that’s intended to set the stage for a possible countywide transit authority. A new transit authority – tentatively called The Washtenaw Ride – would expand the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Some commissioners intend to bring forward amendments to the agreement, which the board is expected to vote on at its regular July 11 meeting. If the county board does amend the four-party agreement, it would need to be reconsidered by the other three entities involved, which have already approved it: the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the AATA board.
During the time allotted for communications, commissioners discussed the decision by the state not to reimburse local communities for emergency expenses related to the March 15 tornado touchdown near Dexter. Also, Verna McDaniel highlighted the state’s approval of a $1 million grant to fund brownfield cleanup at the former Georgetown Mall in Ann Arbor, for a residential project called Packard Square. The board had approved the grant application a year ago, following a contentious discussion about the project.
Other actions during the June 6 meeting included: (1) authorizing a grant agreement for up to $60,000 in emergency housing assistance for residents facing eviction from Camp Take Notice; (2) taking a final vote to set the 2012 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills; and (3) giving final approval for re-funding of previously-issued bonds, a move that’s expected to save $889,000 over the life of the bond repayments.