Stories indexed with the term ‘Washtenaw Food Policy Council’

County Makes Appointments to RTA, Other Groups

Appointments to three groups – the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA); the Washtenaw County food policy council, and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission – were made at the Washtenaw County board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting. The board also made its annual appointments of county commissioners to various boards, committees and commissions.

Yousef Rabhi, chair of the board, appointed Alma Wheeler Smith to fill an opening in the RTA. Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – was not seeking reappointment. The deadline to apply for this opening had been extended, but there were only two applicants. The other applicant was Jim Casha, but as a Canadian resident he was ineligible to … [Full Story]

RTA Applications Accepted until Dec. 1, 2013

Applicants for one of two Washtenaw County seats on southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will have until Dec. 1, 2013 to apply. Richard “Murph” Murphy was appointed last year for the seat on the newly established transit authority, which had only a one-year term associated with it.

However, Murphy is not seeking re-appointment to the seat – a point that was included in CEO Michael Ford’s report to the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority at its Nov. 21, 2013 meeting.

The RTA was established in a lame duck session of the Michigan legislature in late 2012, and includes a four-county region – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne – with each county making two appointments to the … [Full Story]

County Accepts Grant for Food Policy Work

Washtenaw County commissioners have voted to accept a $20,000 capacity-building grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation for work on the Washtenaw food policy council. The action took place at the Aug. 7, 2013 meeting of the county board of commissioners.

The grant will pay for training of food council members, a “foodshed mapping” project, and development of an educational and public outreach effort. The grant will be administered by a staff member of the county’s public health department, who has a seat on the council. The department will provide a $15,571 in-kind match for the grant.

The food policy council was created by the county board on March 21, 2012. Most of its members – including Rabhi – … [Full Story]

County Moves Closer to New Labor Deal

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 6, 2013): Following a brief public portion of their meeting, commissioners held a two-hour closed session to discuss a new contract with the county’s labor unions, which has been negotiated over the past few weeks.

Ronnie Peterson, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County commissioners Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who serves as board chair, talk before the board’s March 6, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

This was the third consecutive meeting that’s included a lengthy closed session on this topic, as the administration has been conducting accelerated negotiations with its union to reach a new contract before March 27. That’s the date when Michigan’s right-to-work legislation – enacted late last year – takes effect. At the board’s Feb. 20, 2013 meeting, commissioners gave final approval to a resolution opposing the legislation, with a clause that directed the county administration to renegotiate union contracts.

Several union leaders attended the March 6 meeting. However, they did not formally address the board, and left before commissioners ended the closed session.

The board took no action after emerging from the closed session. The new long-term agreements are expected to be brought forward for a vote at the board’s March 20 meeting, and would also need to be ratified by union membership.

A new union contract is likely to have a significant impact on the county’s budget, which will be the focus of a board retreat on Thursday, March 7. Board chair Yousef Rabhi briefed commissioners on the agenda for that retreat. The discussion will focus on six key areas: (1) labor force sustainability/internal equity; (2) environmental impact and mobility in Washtenaw County; (3) economic development; (4) human services/safety net; (5) mandated service provision/resources; and (6) long-term fiscal stability.

Also impacting county operations are automatic sequestration-related federal budget cuts that were activated on March 1. Rabhi read aloud a letter from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, which alerted the county to an anticipated 5% reduction in HUD funding during the current fiscal year for programs supporting low-income housing and emergency assistance to the homeless, among others. The full impact of federal cuts across all county departments – including public health and the office of community & economic development – is not yet known, according to the county’s finance director.

The light agenda on March 6 included three items related to public health: (1) a move toward setting a $75 fee for the county’s training course to certify drinking water operators; (2) giving initial approval to the county public health department’s plan of organization, as mandated by the state of Michigan; and (3) making two appointments to the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO) board.

Rabhi also reported that the county’s new food policy council, on which he serves, might make a funding request soon to hire a staff member, who would help carry out the council’s work. The council was formed in 2012 to support the local food economy. [Full Story]

County Tax Hike for Economic Development?

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): Board chair Conan Smith has floated a proposal to raise taxes that support economic development and agricultural programs, and suggested revising the way those revenues are administered.

The proposal came in the context of an initial board vote to levy an annual tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. The Michigan statute authorizing this millage (Act 88 of 1913) predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, so no voter approval is required. The board can levy the tax directly.

Ken Schrader, PC technician with Washtenaw County

Ken Schrader, a PC technician with Washtenaw County, explained to the county commissioners that recently installed new microphones are more sensitive than the older ones. He jokingly warned them that they should be careful what they say now, because “you can’t take anything back.” Later in the meeting, the county’s information technology department was presented with an award from the Center for Digital Government.

The current rate is expected to bring in about $683,095 in 2013, and is allocated to a variety of organizations, including the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK ($200,000) and its Ypsilanti office SPARK East ($50,000). Smith and county administrator Verna McDaniel serve on SPARK’s executive committee.

Smith, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, suggested that by raising the rate to 0.06 mills, property owners would see only a slight increase in their annual taxes. For the average taxpayer, he estimated it would increase from $4.25 to $5.10 per year, while the amount raised countywide would increase about 20% to $838,577. He also proposed that the office of community and economic development – a joint county/city of Ann Arbor department led by Mary Jo Callan – should be given the authority to allocate the funding, rather than having the county board earmark amounts for specific organizations.

No formal amendment was made, but Smith circulated a three-page memo the following night outlining his proposal. [.pdf of Smith's Act 88 memo] It’s likely the board will take up this proposal as an amendment before a final vote at its Sept. 19 meeting. Initial approval was given on Sept. 5 for the current rate of 0.05 mills on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, and Dan Smith. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

Another pre-Headlee tax – for support of indigent veterans – also got initial approval from the board, at a slightly increased rate. The initial approval increases that tax from 0.025 mills to 0.0286 mills. Staff of the county’s department of veterans affairs say the increase is needed because of rising claims and services from veterans due to a struggling economy, an anticipated increase in the number of returning soldiers, and a drop in property values. The millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues during 2013.

In other action related to tax revenue, commissioners gave initial approval to an ordinance governing the county’s natural areas preservation program. The change would remove the current restriction that only 7% of millage funds can be used for management or stewardship. The intent is to provide more flexibility in managing the funds, allowing the county to build a reserve for long-term stewardship. It’s viewed as an important goal, in the event that the NAPP millage is eliminated in the future. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat who represents District 11 in Ann Arbor, proposed an amendment that would set a minimum of 25% to be spent on stewardship. The amendment failed on a 1-9 vote.

In an item viewed largely as a formality, county commissioners “ratified” the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The document had been slightly revised from what the board had previously approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote. This time, the vote was 6-3, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Ronnie Peterson were absent. Rob Turner, who had previously voted against the articles of incorporation, supported the item on Sept. 5.

Also approved was a resolution to support a policy change in the city of Ann Arbor related to affordable housing. The item was added to the Sept. 5 agenda during the meeting by Democrat Leah Gunn of Ann Arbor, and was not discussed by commissioners at the meeting. The resolution “encourages the Ann Arbor City Council to direct proceeds from the sale of the city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, to be used to support sustainable, affordable housing.” [Earlier in the day, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board had passed a similar resolution of support. Gunn is chair of the DDA.] Dan Smith abstained from the vote. The following night, at a board working session, Alicia Ping announced that she had intended to vote against it, but had cited the wrong agenda number in casting her no vote.

Other action at the Sept. 5 meeting included initial approval of the county’s public health budget, which projects a 3.5 net increase in jobs. Voting against the budget were Alicia Ping and Dan Smith, who cautioned against adding new jobs as the county faces a deficit in 2013. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting.

Seth Best, a former resident of Camp Take Notice, addressed the board during public commentary about the need to tackle the root causes of homelessness. The homeless encampment had been evicted this summer from its most recent site in Scio Township.

And highlighting a letter that the county had recently received, commissioner Felicia Brabec raised concerns about the intent of Paxton Resources LLC to drill an exploratory oil and gas well in Saline Township. The board will likely revisit the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” at a future working session. Yousef Rabhi, who chairs those meetings, suggested wrapping it into a session he plans regarding the Pall/Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane plume. He sees a tie-in to the issue of industrial environmental contamination. [Full Story]

County Food Council Appointment OK’d

One appointment was made by Washtenaw County commissioners at their Sept. 5, 2012 meeting. Sharon Sheldon of the Washtenaw County Public Health department was appointed to replace Jenna Bacolor on the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council. The slot is designated for someone in the public health sector. Sheldon also serves on the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) board and is a former board member of Growing Hope. She currently works as a program administrator in the county public health department’s health promotion/disease prevention division.

Two appointments to fill vacancies on the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission had originally been on the Sept. 5 agenda but were pulled by board chair Conan Smith. Both slots had been for members of the general … [Full Story]

County Board Focuses on Public Health Issues

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.

Leah Gunn, Conan Smith

Washtenaw County commissioners Leah Gunn and Conan Smith, who both represent districts in Ann Arbor, exchange hand gestures before the start of the June 6, 2012 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

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. [Full Story]

Food Policy Council Members Appointed

In action taken at their June 6, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners appointed 15 members to a new Washtenaw Food Policy Council, and passed amended bylaws. The board of commissioners had given final approval to create the council at its March 21, 2012 meeting.

Members appointed with one-year terms are: Bill Alt (faith-based organization); Amanda Edmonds (urban agriculture); Dena Jaffee (food service); Liz Dahl MacGregor (citizen); Nicole Miller (emergency food system); Lindsey Scalera (education); Dayle Wright (health care); and Patti Smith (human Services).

Members appointed to two-year terms are: Jenna Bacolor (Washtenaw County public health); Nicole Chardoul (Waste management); Gretchen Hofing (nutrition); Tim Redmond (food manufacturer and distributor); Michaelle Rehmann (economic development); Kenny Siler (rural agriculture). County commissioner Yousef Rabhi had previously … [Full Story]

Rabhi Appointed to Food Policy Council

Yousef Rabhi, a Washtenaw County commissioner representing District 11 in Ann Arbor, was appointed by his colleagues on the county board to serve on the new Washtenaw Food Policy Council. The vote came during the board’s May 2, 2012 meeting.

The county board approved the creation of the council at its March 21, 2012 meeting. The council’s goal is to support local “small and mid-sized farmers by fostering policies that encourage local food purchasing and production,” according to a staff memo. Among other activities, the council could also: recommend policy changes at the local, state and national levels; provide a forum for discussing food issues; encourage coordination among different sectors of the local food system; evaluate, educate, and influence policy; and launch or support programs and … [Full Story]