The Art of Partnering

County board receives artwork, shared services report
and artist Leslie Sobel hold one of four panels from the "Ecology of Place"

Mark Lindke, director of Washtenaw County Veteran Services, and artist Leslie Sobel hold one of four panels from the "Ecology of Place" artwork presented to the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Jan. 21, 2009): A light agenda for the county board on Wednesday included the presentation of a major art project, a report on efforts to partner with other municipalities for shared services, and appointments of commissioners to various committees. Rolland Sizemore Jr. led his first full board meeting as its new chair, and Kristin Judge led her first meeting as the new vice chair of the Ways & Means Committee – Conan Smith, the committee’s chair, was absent.

“Ecology of Place”

A large four-panel work of art called “Ecology of Place” – a collaborative piece by local artist Leslie Sobel – was presented to the board and will be hung in the meeting room at the county’s Learning Resource Center on Hogback Road.

Partnering with the Washtenaw Land Trust, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and other individuals in the community, Sobel used aerial images, maps, drawings, photographs and text by local residents to make a collage that highlights the county’s natural features. The four panels represent the four quadrants of the county – the work spans 7.5 feet by 7.5 feet. [Find out more details here.]

“Anyone watching the changing of leadership in our capitol this week should have a renewed understanding of the extraordinary power of art – it is inspirational, informative and inclusive,” said Shary Brown of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, in presenting the piece to the board. “Arts give voice and vision in the exploration and expression of our values. The “Ecology of Place” is an expression of our values, using visual and word images to celebrate what is very special about our varied ecosystems, created collaboratively.”

Sobel described the work as “truly a map of where we are.”

Partnerships for shared services

David Behen, deputy county administrator, reported on several initiatives to partner with cities and townships in the county, looking at ways to cut costs by sharing services. Among those projects are:

  • Ann Arbor: The county and city are working to combine their data centers, Behen said, a project that should be completed by March. The joint center will be housed in the city’s facility. The two entities are also working on a joint strategic plan for their IT services, hoping to gain more purchasing power by combining forces. And they’re doing a common needs assessment for human resources and financial systems.
  • Pittsfield Township: The county staff plans to manage human resources and labor negotiations for the township, Behen said. Pittsfield currently has a vacant position of its HR director, which it would leave unfilled if the county takes over those services. The county might also provide some IT services for Pittsfield, including joint licensing of Microsoft software and developing an intranet.
  • Chelsea and Ypsilanti: The county is already handling IT services for the Chelsea police department, which paid $4,000 to the county in 2008, Behen said. They do the same for the city of Ypsilanti, which paid the county $35,000 for IT services last year.
  • Washtenaw Road Commission: The county now manages HR and labor relations for the Washtenaw County Road Commission, allowing the commission to leave its HR director position (at a salary of $86,528) unfilled.
  • Regional dispatch: The county and Ann Arbor are working to consolidate two dispatch centers, which could save the groups $6.4 million over 10 years. This project would require approval by the county board, city council and state police, as well as approval by the governor, before implementing, Behen said.

Behen said the administrative staff plans to bring the board a draft of policy and guidelines for pursuing partnerships within the next 30 days.

Commissioners had several questions and comments for Behen. Commissioner Kristin Judge said she wanted to ensure that county staff had the resources they needed to take on additional work. Commissioner Mark Ouimet said it was important to make sure that the county is being reimbursed at the appropriate rate.

Commissioner Wes Prater asked how many dispatch centers there are countywide, and whether consolidation with others was in the works. County administrator Bob Guenzel responded, saying that the five other centers were hesitant, so they’ll just be consolidating these two initially. Judge asked if anyone from the county’s staff is working with the other centers to try to persuade them to participate, and whether it would be helpful for commissioners in those districts to get involved. Behen said it could be a combination of both, and Guenzel added that staff had involved police chiefs throughout the county in those talks as well.

Commissioner Ken Schwartz wanted to know what the county’s legal liabilities were regarding potential lawsuits brought by workers in the townships in which the county is handling human resources and labor negotiations. Prater said the road commission addressed those legal issues when the county started handling their HR and labor negotiations, so they might serve as a guide.

Sizemore ended the discussion by saying he’s glad the county is partnering with other entities. He also wants staff to look at what townships and cities can offer the county, not just what the county can do for them. And he asked staff to find out what other counties have done in this regard – there might be things Washtenaw County can learn from them.

Other items

Commissioners had discussed appointments to roughly 30 committees, boards and councils at a Jan. 14 meeting. The board chair is charged with making the official nominations, and on Wednesday Sizemore announced the appointments, which were unanimously approved by the board. [PDF file of appointments]

Sizemore also scheduled a board retreat for Saturday, March 21. When asked by commissioner Ken Schwartz about what topics would be covered, Sizemore said he planned to talk with each commissioner individually to get their input before setting the agenda.

Present: Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman, Ronnie Peterson, Conan Smith

Next board meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date] The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting.  (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.

Artist Leslie Sobel, Shary Brown of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, and Suzie Heiney and Susan Lackey of the Washtenaw Land Trust

Artist Leslie Sobel, Shary Brown of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, and Suzie Heiney and Susan Lackey of the Washtenaw Land Trust at Wednesday's meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Kristin Judge leads her first meeting as the new vice chair for the countys Ways & Means Committee.

Kristin Judge leads her first meeting as the new vice chair for the county board's Ways & Means Committee.