Wednesday’s administrative briefing for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners lasted less than an hour, with much of that time spent discussing the process for appointing Washtenaw County Road Commissioners and possibly expanding that board.
The administrative briefing, held in the county administrator’s conference room, is much more informal than a regular board meeting. That tone was apparent when Conan Smith, a Democrat representing Ann Arbor, floated a proposal for discussing whether and how to increase the number of road commissioners from three to five. He referred to a caucus held earlier this month as well as previous discussions, and said he wanted to push the issue forward.
“It’s something we’ve talked about a lot,” Smith said, “and rather than fighting about it, let’s take some action.”
He passed around a proposed timeline and list of potential issues to consider, presented in the form of questions: Should geographic diversity be built into the appointments process? Should political partisanship be built in (e.g. two Republicans, three Democrats)? And so on.
Jessica Ping, a Republican representing the southwest part of the county, thanked Smith for putting the proposal together and said she supported looking at a change in the appointment process. Republican Mark Ouimet, who represents the Chelsea and Dexter areas, agreed. When no one else commented, Smith quipped: “Are there any Democrats who like it?”
“Not this one,” said Leah Gunn, another Ann Arbor Democrat.
Gunn said she supports expanding the commission, but thinks the appointment process works well as it stands. In that process, the chair of the board – currently Democrat Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor – vets and nominates a candidate for the entire board to vote on. Other commissioners can propose candidates as well, though that typically doesn’t occur. Gunn said she thought Irwin did a good job in selecting Doug Fuller of Scio Township as the recent nominee to replace Wes Prater, who resigned during his run for county commission. At its Oct. 15 meeting, the board voted to appoint Fuller, with Ping and Karen Lovejoy Roe voting against the appointment because they didn’t like the process.
Ping said the only way she’d support expanding the road commission would be if the process were altered so that it wasn’t a political appointment. Gunn replied that all appointments are political because they are made by the board, which is an elected body and by its nature political.
The timing of a discussion and public hearing on the topic presented some challenges. Smith had proposed giving notice of a public hearing on possible expansion at the Nov. 5 board meeting, with a policy discussion at the Nov. 6 working session and the hearing and vote on Dec. 3.
Several commissioners felt that Irwin – who didn’t attend this briefing – should weigh in on the proposal before any decision was made. Several also felt that the possible changes should be postponed until the new board takes over in January.
At least two commissioners will not be returning: Mandy Grewal and Karen Lovejoy Roe did not run for re-election as commissioners but won their Democratic primary races for supervisor in Pittsfield Township, and clerk in Ypsilanti Township, respectively. Other commissioners who face challenges on Nov. 4 are Jessica Ping, Mark Ouimet and Ken Schwartz. New commissioners are set to take office during the first meeting in January 2009.
Another factor: Several townships will have new leadership after the election, and some commissioners felt that those officials should have the chance to give input too, since the road commission’s work largely affects the county’s more rural areas.
Smith said he would connect with Irwin to discuss how to proceed, including whether to add an item about the public hearing on the Nov. 5 agenda. None of this will affect the appointment process for the position occupied by road commissioner Fred Veigel of Ypsilanti, whose term is expiring. The board will be considering that appointment at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Present: Leah Gunn, Mark Ouimet, Jessica Ping, Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith
Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman, Mandy Grewal, Jeff Irwin, Ronnie Peterson
Next meeting: Wednesday, Nov. 5 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. Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting.
Upcoming meeting: On Thursday, Nov. 6, the board holds a working session starting at 6:30 p.m. in the County Administration Building. Speakers will include Mike Finney of Ann Arbor SPARK; Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, who’ll give a presentation on the aerotropolis project; and Tony VanDerworp, the county’s director of planning and environment, who’ll give a briefing on the Community Success initiative.