County Reads Jobs in Airport Project

Also, one commissioner delivers a "lugubrious" report
Stedman Graham signs copies of his book

Author Stedman Graham signs copies of his book "You Can Make It Happen" in the board room of the Washtenaw County administrative building on Wednesday. Tiffany Lucas of the county's Employment, Training & Community Services department collects the signed copies, which were presented to county commissioners during their board meeting.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (March 18, 2009): A meeting that brought some heated rhetoric about funding sources for a regional aerotropolis project also included brief remarks by Stedman Graham about the county’s literacy initiative and an invitation to attend a March 29 soccer match between the sheriff’s department and the Washtenaw County Homeless Soccer Team.

The meeting was preceded by a reception that drew about 200 people from the community to highlight the county’s Blueprint to End Illiteracy, which was formally presented at the Wednesday board meeting.

Blueprint to End Illiteracy

A group of 25 organizations from across the county formed the Washtenaw County Literacy Coalition, and have been working for two years to develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate illiteracy – focused on reading and writing, but also using literacy skills in health care, the workplace (including computers) and finance. Co-chairs for the group – county administrator Bob Guenzel and Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library – were on hand to make the formal presentation of the Blueprint to End Illiteracy at Wednesday evening’s board of commissioners meeting.

Guenzel told the commissioners that 27,000 people in Washtenaw County lack adult literacy skills, and that 12% of students in Washtenaw County don’t graduate from high school – in some areas, that percentage is higher. Fifty percent of children with illiterate parents grow up to be illiterate themselves, he said. There are also strong correlations between illiteracy, health care problems and financial struggles.

During her part of the presentation, Parker outlined the coalition’s goals: 1) to increase public awareness and improve resource-sharing among agencies that tackle the issue, 2) to improve literacy skills among all residents, and 3) to build an infrastructure that will support the effort’s long-term sustainability. This last goal is the hardest one, she said, especially in the current economy. The group has raised $78,300 in grants and donations for 2008-09, including a $50,000 grant from the United Way of Washtenaw County.

Parker said organizers decided that the only way to make this effort succeed is to involve families – that’s why the coalition’s first program will focus on families, she said. The pilot program, to run from April through July, will include activities for the entire family, held at locations throughout the county: the Ann Arbor District Library, the Ypsilanti District Library, Jewish Family Services in Ann Arbor, the Community Church of God in Ypsilanti, and Faith in Action in Chelsea.

In addition to passing a resolution to accept the blueprint – which the board did unanimously – Guenzel said commissioners could help by supporting in-kind contributions of staff time, space and other resources from the county. It’s a long-term commitment, he said.

After the presentation, Guenzel asked Stedman Graham to make a few remarks to the board. Graham was in town this week for several events focused on literacy – his visit was sponsored by the county’s Employment, Training & Community Services department. They paid $12,000 for four public appearances, with the money taken from federal funds allocated for outreach and literacy, according to Guenzel.

Before the meeting Graham had signed paperback copies of his book “You Can Make It Happen,” which were passed out to commissioners. The book outlines a “nine-step plan for success,” and during his remarks, Graham said: “You’re following the nine-step process and it’s just a beautiful thing to see.”

For the record, those steps (as excerpted from Graham’s book) are:

  1. Check your ID: “Before you can decide what you want for your life, you first must understand who you are, what the influences are on your life, why you act and think the way you do.”
  2. Create your vision: “To seek a better life, you first have to decide what you want for your life.”
  3. Develop your travel plan: “Once you have established your goals, you need a plan to pursue your vision.”
  4. Master the rules of the road: You will need “self-discipline, determination, and perseverance to keep after your goals because there will always be distractions and disruptions in your journey to fulfill your vision of your life.”
  5. Step into the outer limit: “There are always risks when you chase after a dream because growth requires that you leave your comfort zone and enter unknown territory.”
  6. Pilot the seasons of change: “If you are not getting what you want out of life, you have to change your approach to it. To get what you want, you have to become the person who deserves it.”
  7. Build your dream team: “To pursue success effectively, you must build supportive relationship that will help you work toward your goals.”
  8. Win by a decision: “Making decisions wisely is one of your greatest challenges.”
  9. Commit to your vision: “Having a commitment involves pledging your time and energy to the pursuit of your vision, and making that pursuit a top priority in your life.”

Detroit Aerotropolis

At their March 11 administrative briefing, covered by The Chronicle, commissioners who attended had an animated debate about the pros and cons of joining the Aerotropolis Development Corp., a regional effort to develop a commercial corridor between Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports.

Commissioner Conan Smith, as chair of the board’s Ways & Means Committee, began Wednesday night’s deliberations by saying that he’d made some vehement comments at the March 11 meeting, and now felt he’d been “dead wrong” about his statements that it would be unlikely to get a return on the county’s investment of $100,000  to join the aerotropolis ($50,000 per year, for two years). While he still had concerns, he said he was willing to support the proposal.

Several other commissioners expressed their support. Wes Prater said it was up to the county’s representative to the aerotropolis board to ensure that their concerns are addressed. Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board’s chair, said he was interested in being that representative, saying he supported the effort because it offered the opportunity to partner with Wayne County for this and potentially other projects. Kristin Judge, who at last week’s meeting expressed concerns over the cost of joining, said she also felt it was important to reach out to Wayne County. She said she was more comfortable now that the fee had dropped from $150,000 to $50,000 per year.

Jessica Ping, who at last week’s meeting had also raised concerns about the cost, said she would support the project because of the jobs it could potentially create for the county. (Aerotropolis organizers have projected the district could bring in 64,000 jobs over 25 years.) Ping noted that the resolution they’d be voting on indicated the funds would come out of the  Employment, Training & Community Services (ETCS) budget, and she wondered about whether taking the money from the Eastern Leaders Group was still an option, as discussed at the March 11 briefing.

Guenzel said he was recommending that the $50,000 come from the ETCS budget. Ping asked what the money allocated for the Eastern Leaders Group in 2009 was being used for (the county budgeted $300,000 for that partnership). Guenzel said the board could certainly choose to allocate the funds from either entity. When pressed again by Ping about why the county would prefer using ETCS funds, Guenzel said that the Eastern Leaders Group was developing a plan that would be presented on April 16 focused on economic development on the eastern side of the county.

Smith asked Ping whether she wanted to amend the resolution, striking the reference to ETCS. An agitated Ronnie Peterson, who represents Ypsilanti and parts of Ypsilanti Township, asked whether Smith was trying to steer her into making the amendment. Smith said he was trying to help address her concern.

Jeff Irwin spoke next, saying the opportunities of the aerotropolis outweighed any risks or challenges. He said that freight now gets trucked out of the Detroit area to Chicago, where it is flown to other parts of the world. A lot of dollars are involved in moving those products, and those dollars could be kept in this region. He said one overlooked component of the project was transit-oriented development, and that the group needed to spend more time working on the rail corridor between the two airports.

The next commissioner to speak was Peterson, clearly upset, who addressed the issue of funding. He said the eastern part of the county has been hit hard by the economy, especially from the loss of auto manufacturing jobs. Funding for the Eastern Leaders Group is designated for economic development, he said. “It wasn’t created to be a pool of money to stick a fork in whenever you want a dollar.”

He said he’d heard about last week’s discussion that took place at the administrative briefing, and said he doesn’t attend those meetings because he doesn’t believe the people’s business should be done in back rooms. (Peterson is the only commissioner who hasn’t attended any of the administrative briefings since The Chronicle began covering them in October 2008. Not all commissioners attend each briefing, and there’s no requirement to attend. The meetings are not televised but are open to the public, though it’s fairly rare that anyone besides county staff and commissioners attend.)

Smith then proposed an amendment to the resolution, striking the reference to ETCS. He said that would give the administration more flexibility in deciding how to fund the aerotropolis fee, in the event that other funding sources arose that would make more sense. Irwin said he wouldn’t support the amendment, because the administration had already allocated and made the recommendation to use ETCS funds. Several other commissioners weighed in to agree.

Ping said she supported economic development in all parts of the county, and had only asked about an alternative to ETCS because she knew the budget situation was difficult. Smith said it’s a way to make sure the eastern part of the county gets even more funding for economic development. He noted that if the Eastern Leaders Group doesn’t use its funding – as was the case last year – it reverts to the general fund.

Peterson said it was rude not to consult with the Eastern Leaders Group before discussing their funding. He said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the projects they were working on, but that there are several.

Kristin Judge thanked Peterson for his passion, and said that she hoped Pittsfield Township would join the Eastern Leaders Group at some point. She noted that the administrative briefings are open to the public, and that some members of the media do attend.

The amendment to strike the reference to ETCS funding failed, with only Ping and Smith voting for it.

The original resolution to join the aerotropolis passed unanimously.

Soccer Match

At the meeting’s public comment session, only one group spoke. Several members of the Washtenaw County Homeless Soccer Team – the S.S. PORT – were there to promote a March 29 match between their team and members of the Washtenaw Sheriff’s department. The game, the first of its kind, will also be a fundraiser for the team, said Sara Silvennoinen, who helps organize the team. It will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at Worldwide Sports Center, 2140 Oak Valley Drive, Ann Arbor. The team is also selling raffle tickets and T-shirts leading up to and at the event. Funds will be used toward the team’s goal of attending the Homeless USA Cup competition in Washington, D.C. this June.

A “Lugubrious” Report

Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman is a member of the county’s Human Emergency Response Committee, and reported to commissioners that at their most recent meeting, the committee heard from the Michigan Mortuary Response Team, or MI-MORT. The group is part of a statewide disaster preparedness effort, and has equipment like refrigerated trucks that can be deployed as temporary morgues in the case of an emergency resulting in mass fatalities. Bergman, noting that her report was lugubrious, said these were important efforts being taken to prepare for a crisis. No other commissioners had comments or questions about her report.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., and Conan Smith

Next board meeting: Wednesday, April 1 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.  (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. [confirm date]

During a reception prior to Wednesdays board meeting, from left: Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, Stedman Graham, commissioner Leah Gunn, county administrator Bob Guenzel.

During a reception prior to Wednesday's board meeting, from left: Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, author Stedman Graham, commissioner Leah Gunn, county administrator Bob Guenzel. Peterson, Gunn and Guenzel are all involved in the county's Blueprint to End Illiteracy.

One Comment

  1. March 23, 2009 at 8:53 am | permalink

    Your article on the county was well written and informative. I really appreciate journalists who let us know the issues and stakeholders point of view. Keep up the excellent job of educating the public!

    Don’t miss today’s NYTimes article about the Austin Chronicle and how effective it has been. Peter