Meeting Watch: County Board (13 Nov 2008)

Road Commission appointment debated

A Nov. 13 administrative briefing and appointments caucus for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners revealed some disagreements regarding the reappointment of Road Commissioner Fred Veigel, as well as a reluctance to fund the proposed Aerotropolis project. The commissioners also decided to hold a public hearing for a proposed increase to the hotel/motel room tax.


At the administrative briefing, commissioners and staff reviewed the agenda for the Nov. 19 board meeting. One upcoming item is a proposal to join the Aerotropolis Development Corporation, an economic development project aimed at fostering growth in the corridor between Willow Run Airport on the county’s east side and Detroit Metro Airport. (The project was discussed at the board’s Nov. 6 working session.)

Washtenaw County would need to pay $150,000 to be a member for the first year, and several commissioners expressed concerns about that commitment. Rolland Sizemore said he wasn’t sure what the county would get out of the project. Ken Schwartz noted that state legislation hasn’t yet passed to allow the ADC to set up a Local Development Finance Authority, which would allow it to capture tax revenues. He also felt the state should be playing a stronger role in the project. Conan Smith estimated that there’d need to be about $125 million invested by businesses in the Washtenaw County portion of the ADC just to allow the county to recoup its $150,000 from an increased tax base.

Hotel/Motel tax

Also on the Nov. 19 agenda is a resolution to increase the tax on hotel and motel rooms in the county from 2% to 5%. (Actually, the ordinance language applies the tax to “all persons operating a business to provide rooms for dwelling to transient guests.”) If approved, it would take effect March 1, 2009. The move is being supported by the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and its counterpart in Ypsilanti, which are funded via the tax.

No public hearing is required, but some commissioners said they’d feel more comfortable if they could hold a public hearing anyway. Conan Smith raised the question of whether they should add a sunset clause to the increase. His concern was that they don’t know the impact of the tax increase, and sunsetting the ordinance would give them an opportunity to reevaluate. Ken Schwartz also was interested in a sunset clause, saying it would make the CVBs more accountable. Mark Ouimet pointed out that the commission approves the marketing plan each year for the CVBs, and in that way they are already held accountable. A public hearing is set for Dec. 3.

Appointments caucus

Immediately following the administrative briefing, commissioners met to discuss appointments to 24 different county boards and committees, as diverse as the concealed weapons licensing board and the parks & recreation commission. Most people seeking reappointment were slated for approval, and vacancies were filled with other applicants after quick discussion. The packet containing all resumes and letters of support was 441 pages.

The only exception was the Washtenaw Road Commission. Fred Veigel, who’s been a road commissioner since 1991 and serves as chair, is seeking reappointment. Nineteen others applied for the position, a six-year term with an annual compensation of $10,500.

Jeff Irwin, chair of the board, said he doesn’t intend to nominate Veigel for the job. He said that Veigel is diligent and hard-working, but is difficult to work with and often rude to other road commissioners, staff and members of the public. “I think there’s something really wrong with being uncivil to people you’re supposed to serve,” Irwin said.

These same behavioral issues have always existed, Irwin acknowledged. But in the past, “the good outweighed the bad,” he said. That’s no longer the case.

Mark Ouimet, who serves as the board’s liaison to the road commission, said “Fred gets emotional quickly.” He thinks Veigel is trying to do better, but that any kind of change for him is hard. On the positive side, Veigel understands the business of road and bridge construction, and is passionate about it. However, his volatility is high. Ouimet said when he attends meetings with Veigel and others, things are calmer. But that changes when he’s not there.

Rolland Sizemore, Karen Lovejoy Roe and Ken Schwartz all acknowledged the problems, but praised Veigel’s ability to get things done. Complaints about roads are common in their districts on the east side of the county, and “when you can’t get anything done at the director’s level, you can call Fred and he’ll get in his car and take care of it,” Sizemore said.

Sizemore said he’d only support expansion of the road commission to five members – a long-discussed option – if Veigel remained. Conan Smith had hoped to deal with this appointment after the decision to expand had been made, but said he guessed that was off the table. “Nothing’s ever off the table,” Irwin said. “That’s the beauty of local government.”

Irwin plans to nominate Lee Gorman for the position at the Nov. 19 meeting. Gorman serves on the Ann Arbor Township Planning Commission and is an independent business consultant who previously worked in management positions at Ford Motor Co.

Any commissioner can make a nomination, and Irwin said he expects someone will nominate Veigel as well. The commissioners would then cast votes – six are needed to win approval. Irwin said that though this could be a divisive vote, he hoped they could get through it with a “minimum of nastiness.”

What babies do

Jeff Irwin, the board’s chairman, walked into the administrative briefing a few minutes late – his previously longish locks replaced by a tightly shorn haircut. “See what babies do to you?” joked Rolland Sizemore. “You go and pull your hair out.” Irwin reported that his newborn baby girl is doing well.

Present: Jeff Irwin, Mark Ouimet, Karen Lovejoy Roe, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith. (Three of the commissioners who did not attend this meeting – Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn and Ronnie Peterson – were at a Shelter Association awards dinner held at the same time, where Gunn and county administrator Bob Guenzel were among the honorees.)