County’s Budget Crisis Gets Emotional

Board hears pleas from residents to fund human services
Nina Johnson, Washtenaw County's human resources manager, prepares awards that were given out to employees during Wednesdays board of commissioners meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Nina Johnson, Washtenaw County's human resources manager, prepares awards that were given out to employees during Wednesday's board of commissioners meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Sept. 2, 2009): Emotions ran high during parts of Wednesday night’s county board meeting, as residents made impassioned pleas for continued funding of programs for the developmentally disabled. Commissioners responded, some with equal passion, with Leah Gunn saying this is the worst year she’s ever faced in her career as a commissioner, and Jeff Irwin breaking down as he described his reaction to hearing constituents’ stories. The county faces a projected $30 million budget deficit over the next two years in its $102 million general fund, and is working on ways to cut expenses.

Commissioners also heard budget presentations from leaders of two departments – Public Health, and Community Support and Treatment Services – and got a brief budget update from county administrator Bob Guenzel, who said that their 2009 general fund projections are on target.

The board also voted unanimously – and with no discussion – to approve a $1.375 million deal that would settle two lawsuits related to the 2006 death of Clifton Lee Jr., who died after a struggle with Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies in the Ypsilanti Township of West Willow.

Public Health

Dick Fleece, director of the county’s Public Health/Environmental Health department, gave a presentation on the public health portion of his 2010 budget. Because of state funding requirements, the department needs to finalize its budget by Oct. 1. That means commissioners will need to vote on it at their Sept. 16 meeting. [Most of the county's general fund budget is expected to receive final approval from the board in November.]

Public health’s $9.3 million budget gets funding from several sources, but the largest single source – $3.36 million in 2010 – comes from the county’s general fund and accounts for 32.5% of the department’s total budget. Another large funding source is the state, contributing an anticipated $2.37 million to the department in 2010. However, given the state’s own budget crisis, that funding remains uncertain, Fleece said. Depending on what happens in Lansing, the department will likely need to return to commissioners with an amended budget later this year. By way of example, he noted that Gov. Jennifer Granholm, through an executive order, cut funding to the state’s public health core services by 17% for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Fleece described several ways that the Public Health department has already cut its budget so far this year, eliminating $594,118 from its 2009 general fund allocation. Three clerical jobs were eliminated, and the positions of public health director and environmental health director were combined. The department also cut costs in several other ways, including centralizing its medical examiner functions at the University of Michigan Hospital, extending a summer layoff for its hearing and vision staff by three weeks, and eliminating overtime for its adult clinic staff, among other things.

The department generated $207,834 in additional revenue during 2009, Fleece said, in part through increased billing from Medicaid, and fee increases for cremation permits (from $20 to $40) and certain clinic services. Medicaid revenue has increased – and is expected to grow by $130,000 in 2010 – because the department combined its federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Maternal Infant Health Providers programs. This allowed county staff to reduce the number of home visits and create other efficiencies. Outreach to find children who are eligible for Medicaid funding under these programs has also helped increase revenue.

Fleece noted that nearly all of the department’s programs are mandated by the state. For the department’s 10 discretionary programs, every $1 from the county’s general fund spent on them brings in $2 of funding from other sources – including grants and state or federal dollars, he said.

In outlining his concerns for the coming year, Fleece described increased demand for public health services on several fronts. Levels of sexually transmitted diseases – including HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – are at all-time highs, he said. County staff deals with between 120 to 160 STD cases a month, and does outreach to places like the jail and the Delonis Center, the homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. Other examples of increased demand for services include an increase in the WIC caseload – to over 6,000 clients per month – and greater numbers of reported foodborne illnesses that the department must handle.

Also putting a strain on public health staff is their preparation for a possible H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak. The department is getting $375,548 in federal funding – and possibly more – to help cover staff costs, but the demands are great, Fleece said. Everyone in the department is involved, with tasks including daily phone briefings with UM and St. Joseph Mercy hospitals and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, frequent conference calls with state and federal public health officials, as well as with local school administrators, media requests and presentations to community groups.

The county staff is responsible for tracking lab results and authorizing tests for cases in Washtenaw County, receiving and administering antivirals and vaccines, staffing clinics to give vaccines, training medical and non-medical volunteers, and doing outreach. As one example of the magnitude of their responsibility, Fleece noted that there are 50,000 school-aged children in the county, each requiring two doses of the H1N1 vaccine. However, in response to a question from commissioner Kristin Judge, Fleece noted that the vaccines are voluntary at this point, “except for our staff.” And there’s still uncertainty about the severity of the virus, he said.

The department’s staff is dealing with increased demand for services with fewer resources at their disposal than just a few years ago, Fleece said. Public health employed 90 full-time employees in 2002, but that number has declined over the years due to budget cuts. The 2010 budget supports only 64.5 full-time staff, including nine nurses.

Community Support and Treatment Services

Like public health, the Community Support and Treatment Services department, known as CSTS, must submit its 2010 budget by Oct. 1, and requires approval by the board of commissioners at their Sept. 16 meeting. At Wednesday’s meeting, CSTS director Donna Sabourin gave an overview of the department’s proposed $30.36 million budget. CSTS, which provides a wide range of programs for residents with mental illness and developmental disabilities, is among the county departments being considered for dramatic budget cuts in general fund support.

Earlier in the meeting during the time set aside for public comment, several local residents – including some who were accompanied by developmentally disabled relatives – spoke in support of continued funding.

Public Comment: A Sampling

Jill Barker is president of Friends of the Developmentally Disabled, which advocates for about 200 families in the community. She said her two adult sons have severe cerebral palsy and profound mental retardation, so she understands the concerns and stresses placed on families when services for people like her sons are eliminated or disrupted. She introduced a theme that was echoed by other speakers during public commentary: Routine and familiarity are extremely important to people with developmental disabilities. She stressed the quality of CSTS staff, and noted that some clients have been working with the same CSTS staff their entire adult lives, receiving vocational and other skills-related training.

Lynn Evans introduced herself as the caregiver for her brother Steve, who receives services from CSTS. The staff works long hours and has a commitment to the individuals in their care, she said. It would be tragic if the programs ended, since in some cases it’s the only time when people like her brother have something productive to do: “Where are they going to go? What are they going to do?” The quality of life for clients of CSTS programs will be dramatically affected – that’s a factor that should be considered too, she said, along with the budget.

Deborah Gibson said that as the resident representative to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, she was there to speak on behalf of low-income residents in the city’s public housing who use CSTS services. The mental health services provided by CSTS have a national reputation, she said, and the county should be proud of that. The services should not be considered optional in any way – they are as vital as garbage collection, she said, and if they are eliminated, all residents will be affected, not just those directly using those services.

Commissioner Response

Several commissioners responded to the public comments, praising CSTS staff and their work. Leah Gunn said that her commitment to human services was the reason she became a commissioner, but added that the county was in a financial crisis. It stemmed not just from issues at the county level, but at the state and federal levels as well – in large part, Gunn said, because for 40 years government leaders have been lecturing that taxes are bad. “Taxes are not bad,” she said. “Taxes provide services.”

Commissioner Ronnie Peterson asked whether the relatives of people served by CSTS had been contacted about the possible budget cuts. County administrator Bob Guenzel and CSTS director Donna Sabourin both assured Peterson that the staff had communicated the situation, but Peterson didn’t seem to believe the communication had been sufficient. He said he wanted advocates and caregivers of CSTS clients to be directly involved in this process, and that he wanted to hear their feedback before the commission voted on the CSTS budget.

An emotional Jeff Irwin, tearful as he spoke, described CSTS as offering world-class service, and said that the county risks losing that quality if they don’t provide financial support. “The money is in the system and we can make it work,” he said, prompting applause from people sitting in the public gallery.

Commissioner Conan Smith said he hoped residents understood that the board shares their values and concerns, and that they’d do everything they could to maintain a high level of service. “This is the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced as a community,” he said.

Director’s Budget Report

CSTS director Donna Sabourin reported that the department’s primary funder, the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO), had not finalized its budget for 2010 because it does not yet know how much funding it will receive from the state. Cuts in state funding could range from 15% to 55%, she said. That leaves CSTS in limbo as well. Other uncertainties include possible concessions from union workers that are still being negotiated, and the question of how much funding the county will provide.

With those caveats – and the likelihood that she’ll be bringing back an amended budget later in the year – Sabourin projected a $30.36 million budget for fiscal 2010, beginning Oct. 1. The budget includes a $2.26 million decrease in support from the county’s general fund, offset by a $3.135 million increase in WCHO funding.

As part of its cost-cutting efforts, CSTS plans to eliminate 7.5 full-time jobs – several of those have already been held vacant in anticipation of cuts, Sabourin said. But the department is also creating a part-time position – a peer support specialist – putting the net job reduction at 6.75 positions.

Regarding its vocational services to the developmentally disabled, CSTS has proposed three funding options for the WCHO to consider: 1) increasing WCHO funding to cover current CSTS programs, 2) conduct a competitive bid process for other entities to provide similar programs, or 3) continue funding CSTS and add other vocational and skill-building services, using existing CSTS staff.

After Sabourin’s presentation, commissioner Leah Gunn said, “Once again, scary numbers from the state. What are we going to do?” The WCHO – a partnership of the county and the University of Michigan – is unique, Gunn said, but she feared the impact of state funding. Sabourin said her department was preparing a lot of contingency plans.

Commissioner Jeff Irwin said he was “incredulous” at state attorney general Mike Cox’s ruling earlier this year, which states that counties must pay for mental health screening and treatment of inmates in county jails. The ruling means counties couldn’t use other funding sources to pay for those services. Sabourin said CSTS is adjusting its budget to account for that ruling.

2009 General Fund Update

County administrator Bob Guenzel gave a brief 2009 budget update, saying that thanks to cost-cutting measures implemented earlier this year, they were meeting their target for a balanced general fund budget. The county is projecting a revenue shortfall of $1.57 million for 2009, but plans to reduce expenditures by $1.82 million – leaving a projected surplus of nearly $242,000.

Several factors contributed to the surplus. Among them, Sheriff Jerry Clayton has realized a $500,000 reduction in his department’s budget, which is projected to end the year with a surplus. Separately, the county will not be spending $600,000 it had budgeted on the jail expansion this year. When Jeff Irwin quipped, “Thank you, Jerry Clayton!” Guenzel added that they should also thank construction delays.

Other savings stemmed from budget recommendations that the commission approved in July for 2010 and 2011, but which are being implemented this year.

Guenzel will provide the next 2009 budget update to commissioners in November. At the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, he will be presenting recommendations for dealing with a projected $30 million general fund deficit in 2010 and 2011.

Discount Drug Card

In July, three commissioners – Kristin Judge, Jessica Ping and Wes Prater – attended a conference of the National Association of Counties (NACo) in Nashville. While there, they learned of a drug discount program offered by CVS/Caremark, and they asked a representative of that business to make a presentation about the program to the full board.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Steve Rohm from CVS/Caremark told commissioners that 1,250 counties nationwide participate in the drug discount program. If Washtenaw County participates, cards would be offered to any resident not covered by insurance – there’s no enrollment, fee or registration required, no age limitations or limits on usage. Residents would take the card to participating pharmacies to get some type of discount on their prescription drugs. The discounts would be set by each pharmacy – Rohm said that consumers typically get around a 22% savings. Pet prescriptions are also covered, he said.

Responding to a query from commissioner Jeff Irwin, Rohm said that for each prescription filled using the discount card, CVS/Caremark receives a small transaction fee that’s been pre-negotiated with the pharmacies. He said he did not know the amount of that fee.

Kristin Judge said that she had checked with Ellen Rabinowitz, executive director of the Washtenaw Health Plan, to see if the discount drug card would in any way negatively impact the county’s current plan, and found that it would simply give residents another option. She said that at the NACo conference, she asked commissioners from other counties that were already participating in the plan whether there was a downside to the program – they all told her it was a great benefit. There’s a new kind of person who needs help, Judge said – people who have worked all their lives and never relied on government aid, but who now find themselves out of a job. They’re still reluctant to ask for help, so this discount card, which doesn’t require registration, would be perfect for them, she said.

Commissioner Jessica Ping said that the city of Saline is already participating in the program, through its membership in the National League of Cities. She said her sister, Alicia Ping, who’s a member of the Saline city council, would be willing to answer any questions they might have about the program.

Judge said she’d be supporting the county’s participation in the drug discount program. She also indicated that NACo would be offering similar programs for dental and vision coverage in the future.

Lawsuit Settlement

The board unanimously approved a $1.375 million deal to settle two lawsuits related to the 2006 death of Clifton Lee Jr. in the West Willow neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the proposed settlement.] During the Ways & Means Committee portion of Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners went into a roughly 30-minute closed executive session to discuss the issue. Upon their return, they immediately voted on the item, with no discussion. The settlement was also on the agenda during the board’s regular meeting, which followed Ways & Means. It was approved then as well, again with no discussion.

Public Hearings

Two public hearings were held on Wednesday, regarding 1) a proposed renewal of a indigent veterans relief tax, at 1/40th of a mill, and 2) the proposed designation of Washtenaw County as an economic “recovery zone,” which would allow private and public entities to apply for federal recovery zone economic development bonds and facility bonds.

Tom Partridge, a regular speaker during the public comment sessions, was the only person to speak during the hearing on the veterans relief millage. It would be levied in December 2009, and raise roughly $393,616. For a home valued at $100,000, the tax would be about $2.50. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the millage when it was first implemented in 2008.]

Partridge criticized the county for raising funds that target only one segment of the population, and said the board had failed to live up to its responsibility to provide more comprehensive programs. As he continued to speak, he was cut off by commissioner Mark Ouimet, who told Partridge he was “wavering off topic.” Ouimet, as board vice chair, was chairing the meeting in the absence of Rolland Sizemore Jr., who is chair of the board.

No one spoke during the hearing for the recovery zone designation. Later in the meeting the board approved the designation unanimously, with no discussion. The veterans relief millage will be voted on at an upcoming board meeting.

Misc. Public Comment: A Sampling

In addition to supporters of CSTS, several people spoke during public comment on Wednesday regarding other topics.

Human Services

Kevan Lawlor, president and CEO of NSF International, spoke in his capacity as chair of the board for Food Gatherers, which collects food and distributes it to food pantries and other nonprofits countywide. Food Gatherers provides free or low-cost food to almost every shelter, after-school program and nonprofit agency in the county, he said. They also work in partnership with the county’s Employment Training and Community Services department (ETCS) to provide emergency food assistance. “Now is not the time to cut support to basic human services in our county,” Lawlor said. [The county funds several local nonprofits, including Food Gatherers. One option on the table would eliminate all human services funding beyond what's legally mandated, saving the county $1.69 million.]

Also speaking in support of Food Gatherers was Steve Davis of the Vineyard Church in Milan. The church, which is supplied by Food Gatherers, serves more than 1,500 households, he said. Though most of the families they help are from the eastern part of the county, they’re seeing more people from Ann Arbor and, for the first time, from Chelsea and Manchester, too – 12 to 15 new households sign up each week, he said, and rely on support from Food Gatherers. The county needs to continue its funding, he said, “or we’re going to have issues much more common to other, less fortunate counties.”

AFSCME Local 2733

Tonya Harwood, interim president of AFSCME Local 2733 – the largest union of county employees, representing about 700 of the county’s 1,350 workers – told commissioners she recognized that the county was facing job losses and a major budget deficit. She said that the county administration has been “careless and somewhat irresponsible” in its decisions. She reminded the board that union employees had made concessions in their previous contract, totaling some $10 million in savings over three years. “It seems like we’re not getting credit for that,” she said. AFSCME jobs are also taking a disproportional hit whenever job cuts are proposed, she said, and they don’t feel as though they’ll ever get back those lost union jobs.

United Way

Joanna Bidlack, management analyst with the county administrator’s office, gave a report on the county’s United Way campaign, which runs from Sept. 14-23. Their goal is to raise $75,000 from county employees, she said. Bidlack reported that a pre-campaign “Stuff the Bus” event, in partnership with Target, resulted in 112 backpacks filled with school supplies for children attending Ypsilanti Public Schools. Commissioner Mark Ouimet described United Way as one of his personal passions. “As government is doing less, we have to do more,” he said.

Employee Awards

In the past, the county has held an annual breakfast to recognize employee achievements. For the past two years, they’ve not held this event because of budget reductions. Instead, at Wednesday’s meeting county administrator Bob Guenzel gave out plaques of recognition to individuals and groups. [Link to listing of award winners.] Many family members attended, and vigorous applause filled the board room as each of the winners were recognized.

Present: Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Conan Smith

Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman, Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Next board meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 16 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. [confirm date] (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.


  1. September 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm | permalink

    I don’t teach school in the county, so my kids have never been to CSTS, but I know of similar organizations where I teach and they are invaluable. Michigan, unlike most other states, provides services for special ed students up until age 26. A glance at the CSTS website looks like it helps folks over the age of 18 and therefore, over the age of 26 (I has mad math skillz, peeps). If there is nothing for folks who “age out” of the system, their future can be, to give the understatement of the day, bleak.
    Perhaps more importantly, this gives folks with disabilities the chance to be part of something, achieve and succeed. I know that some of my kids* (okay, they are only in middle school but still) have been told over and over what they CAN’T do or how they CAN’T have thus’n'such job, so opportunities to actually work or produce something is inestimable.
    (*and none of mine have developmental disorders, yet they still face roadblock after roadblock).
    FWIW, I would have been crying with Jeff Irwin–hell, I’m ready to cry and I’m sitting here in my living room. This sucks.

  2. By Leah Gunn
    September 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm | permalink

    You are right Patti – it sucks. Thank you for your comments.

  3. September 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm | permalink

    It seems during this time of economic cut-backs, our government would implement systems to eliminate waste in order to take care of seniors and the disabled.

  4. By Alan Goldmith
    September 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm | permalink

    “In July, three commissioners – Kristin Judge, Jessica Ping and Wes Prater – attended a conference of the National Association of Counties (NACo) in Nashville.”

    Was this travel funded with tax dollars? Did THREE people need to go during this time of financial crisis?

  5. September 8, 2009 at 3:50 pm | permalink

    Sadly, a heroic effort by Leah Gunn to reduce commissioner travel budgets and some other perks (see the Chronicle’s account on May 28, 2009) failed when Conan Smith proposed setting up a flex account instead. Whereas commissioners formerly drew from a pool when they needed to travel for county business, they were instead awarded personal budgets. I’ve been told this was settled as $3000 per year to be spent by the commissioner as he/she wishes.

    The NaCo meetings are for education of individual commissioners. There are two per year, one in Washington in the spring, and one at a floating location in the summer. I went for several years and learned a lot, but found it unnecessary to go every year, since much becomes repetitive and I was not interested in NaCo politics.

  6. By Brian
    September 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm | permalink

    Seems to me that one could learn of this discount drug program without spending thousands to attend a conference. Just Googled the words “county discount drug card” and it led directly to what appears to be the conference sponsor’s website with all the information one could ever need – videos, sign-up forms, etc. Do our government officials need to attend expensive conferences to justify something they could do from a coffee shop? Sounds too much like political cover to me. Do the county folks even visit their own association website, or do they simply wait to attend conferences? This is 2009, not 1990.

    Does the Chronicle know how much of our tax dollars was spent on this conference by these three folks? $3,000 sounds like a lot for a vacation, especially if any of it went towards recreation. Did their families also attend ? Amazing how something sounds great at first until you dig deeper.

  7. By Gary
    September 8, 2009 at 5:09 pm | permalink

    If the average ciizen knew how much the County spends annually on this type of travel the would be stunned. This trip just scratches the surface, every department routinely sends multiple people on needless trips to attend confrences when the information is readily available at home. Just think back to the retirement seminar in Hawaii last year that 8-10 individuals and their families from the County attended.

  8. September 8, 2009 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    To clarify, the $3000 is an allowance for the year, not for a single trip. I don’t know any particulars about that trip, but typically all expenses have to be documented and amount to travel and meals. When or if family members attend, they pay their own expenses. Some commissioners may use the allowance for other purposes than travel. It would not be a cash payment for personal use, but an expense that can be justified as commissioner business.

  9. September 8, 2009 at 7:03 pm | permalink

    In today’s climate, and yesterday’s… this allowance should be 0. People should be coming to the county to sell things, and if something can’t be learned from the huge institution across the street, or the other schools in the county and local area, then perhaps one should just read a book about it. Wasted money. Truly wasted.

  10. By Mary Morgan
    September 8, 2009 at 10:12 pm | permalink

    I have a request in for more information about the travel expenses for this conference. I’ll post a comment here as soon as I get more details.

  11. September 8, 2009 at 11:49 pm | permalink

    In #8, I should have said travel, lodging and meals. The cost of registration for the conference would also be charged against the total.

    When times are not so harsh, these conferences can have good outcomes. Commissioners have a chance to meet others in the same situation and to learn how other counties and states solve similar problems. It is beneficial to educate people who are making a lot of decisions on the public’s behalf.

    I took my husband along on two trips to Washington and one to Portland, Oregon. (We paid for his trip and expenses from our personal funds.) But even so I attended many useful workshops and brought back a lot of information and insights I wouldn’t have learned over the internet or through reading. These meetings can be abused by some who spend much of their time doing socializing and sight-seeing, but you shouldn’t assume that they are “junkets”.

    That said, if I were still on the BOC, I’d have voted to zero out the commissioner travel budget for this period. And I am glad to say that I did prevent the BOC from raising the per diem from $25 to $35 in one round of compensation changes.

    I think that comment #7 is referring to the WERS board (the old county pension system board). Those trips are scandalous but unfortunately nothing new.

  12. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 9, 2009 at 6:28 am | permalink


    I was aware of Leah’s efforts to reduce these funds and appreciate it. And the coference seems like a worthwhile event, in better financial times. But as we move to cut Head Start and mental health services, sending three political officials to the same event, regardless of whether it was paid for out of the individual $3K ‘allowance’ is just wrong.

  13. By Richard
    September 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    #7 – Gary,

    As a former county employee, I can tell you that each non union employee received a small conference budget that covers the cost of registration and some travel. I believe there were some restrictions on air fare and you needed specific permission for any overnight stays. Personally, I only used it once in three years for a conference in Lansing. I’m not sure if it has been rescinded due to the budget issues.

    Anyhow…I suspect that it isn’t quite as big a number as you think, I believe the Commissioners flex fund is largely a symbolic issue as the budget impact is minimal. They Commissioners, if they really believed in transparency, should publish their flex funds on the website with their bios. I think that it would serve to force the Commissioners to be careful about how they use taxpayer money. I’m not holding my breath.

    I’m also saddened by the cuts and the potential impact to the County services and workforce. Having been through the process, it is very stressful. As an aside, I would add that Donna Sabourin is one of the most decent and respected managers in County government.

  14. By Gary
    September 9, 2009 at 5:24 pm | permalink


    I was not speaking only of the Commisioners but, County employees as a whole. I know for a fact that the guidelines you posted either are not in place or have been recently modified. Support services in itself has probably outspent the Commisioners for confrences and seminars. I suspect just David Behen, Dale Vanderford, and Dave Shirley alone have done that. Add to that the rest of the staff and you would be amazed at the amount that is spent. Some Commisioners read this and comment here and I am sure they could obtain this information if they wanted to.

    You are correct I was speaking of the WERS board which consists of Commisioners and other County employees. It may have been a couple of years ago that they went to Hawaii but, every year they have a rendevous somewhere on the taxpayers dime.

  15. By Richard
    September 9, 2009 at 11:19 pm | permalink


    You are probably correct about the travel, I always that it was pretty generous. I don’t disagree with you about Mr. Behen. I thought he was in was in way over his head. And, I know you are correct about a lot of his needless and self serving travel.

    Anyhow…I wish that the commissioners would post their personal travel flex budgets online with their bios. I think that they carefully ignore that common sense suggestion.

  16. By Mary Morgan
    September 10, 2009 at 9:36 am | permalink

    The total for the three commissioners to attend the NACo conference was $5,207.21, according to the county administration. The funds came out of conference and travel allowances budgeted for each commissioner.

  17. By Alan Goldmith
    September 10, 2009 at 10:46 am | permalink

    Thanks for the info Mary.

  18. By Kristin Judge
    September 11, 2009 at 8:50 am | permalink

    As one of the Commissioners that attended the NACo Conference, I want to share with you the experience and reason for my participation. Washtenaw County is a paying member of NACo and MAC (Michigan Association of Counties). In recent years, we were members, but there was little to no participation by commissioners on the committees or boards of these organizations.

    Both organizations create and lobby for legislation that affects county government. Everything we do at the county is governed by some state or federal law. If we allow the state and federal government to create laws without a collective voice of the counties sharing how it affects our budgets, we would have less money than we do now to care for the needy residents in Washtenaw County.

    Seeing the value in these organizations, I have become a member of the Judicial and Public Safety Committee for each organization and a member of the Human Services Committee for MAC. I will help to write policy and lobby elected officials so that our funding does not continue to be taken away.

    Right now, MAC is working with representatives in Lansing to stop them from cutting our revenue sharing almost $1 million per year. This vote is happening today. If MAC had not sent commissioners and lobbyists to the meetings, it may be worse. We need a voice for county government.

    I am going to the department heads in the county with the legislative platforms of these organizations in October to find out if they have additional thoughts or recommendations for me to take back to NACo and MAC. We pay a total of approximately $33,000 a year to belong to both of these organizations. I promise you, I will be sure we get our money’s worth by being active.

    Along with Leah Gunn, I am the commissioner who was first in bringing the board of commissioners budget to the table for reductions. I helped cut $4,032 for subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, $5,239 for food for commissioners and our yearly holiday party for the public, and I am working hard to cut the number of cell phones the county gives to employees. I have been fighting for transparency. If you notice, the contracts by the administrator for under $25,000 are now included in the board packet. I would like our whole checkbook online. I learned that from a commissioner in Colorado while I was at the NACo conference. There should not be one penny spent that the public does not have easy access to.

    While at NACo, I paid for all my own meals. I would need to eat anyway if I was at home. I woke up at 6:30am and did not get back to my room until after 10pm each night. I worked for 6 days straight. When I landed at the Nashville airport, I grabbed a map of the city thinking I could take some time to see it on my own time and dime. The map never left my bag. I worked the whole time I was there.

    I was able to personally meet and speak to the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Jane Oates, and other members of Obama’s cabinet. For the first time that NACo can remember, a president sent many high ranking officials to this conference with the express directive to make sure county government was getting what they need to care for the people. He did not send his cabinet members just to give big speeches to the crowd, but to meet with us in the committee meetings where 20-30 people create policy. To see a list of the people I was able to meet and the meetings I attended, go to this link.

    After meeting the assistant to the Director of Cybersecurity at the conference, I was able to coordinate an educational talk for students, businesses and families in October. The Director of Cybersecurity, Dr. Peter Fonash will be coming to speak to residents of Washtenaw County personally. Three students in our community of Pittsfield Township have been directly effected by adult predators on the internet in the past year. I am committed to helping to educate our residents in the hopes of preventing more harm to our children.

    I was able to speak directly to the Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, about the DARE program. He has met with prevention experts across the country to address the need for a better school prevention program. We were able to explain to Jane Oates that we were not getting the stimulus money to the counties as quickly as it was needed because of red tape at the state level. She was able to go back to Washington and have the money by pass the state and get to work for the people on the ground in the county.

    As you may be able to read in my writing, I am passionate about my role as an advocate for counties. Sitting in Washtenaw County at a big board table is not enough to get the job done. I will continue to go to Lansing and Washington and anywhere else I need to to advocate for my constituents. We need a voice for county government, and being involved in these organizations is the way to get that voice.

    If anyone is interested in talking to me more about this or any other issue, just call my personal cell. 734-646-2088. I just turned in my county cell phone to save money.

    I am being called a “micromanager” by some of my colleagues at the county because I am asking to see detailed numbers as to where your money is going. I want to see who has a cell phone and a county paid for car. I want to know what is being charged to credit cards. I do not have a county credit card. I was offered one when I got here, but I refused. I make a salary of $15,500 a year and work full time. I work sometimes 4 nights a week, and I work on weekends.

    The residents of Washtenaw County are getting their monies worth out of me even if I do go to conferences to represent them. You will never find me spending your money unwisely or for personal gain. Transparent government that works for the people is my goal and why I ran for office.

    I have also started a monthly email newsletter. If you want it delivered to your inbox, email me at If you want to see the back issues online, go to my county web page at I work for the residents, and I will continue to fight to make sure your county tax dollars are spent wisely.

  19. September 11, 2009 at 10:04 am | permalink

    Thank you for the post Kristin,

    I have to say, that lobbying organizations benefiting from public funds is inappropriate at this time. I’d much rather you cut the tax payers payment of 33k to allow you membership to an organization than you cut $5,239 out of food (which was most likely going back into the community). In fact the 33k would be better spent locally informing the public so they can be effective in government. A motivated voting population can have a stronger vote than a membership community.

    There’s an exodus out of Michigan right now. You will be fighting for less money each year and the federal funds to Michigan will certainly decrease as the population dwindles. Can you show us a breakdown of exactly what changes made by this organization directly benefited the taxpayer?

  20. September 12, 2009 at 10:40 am | permalink

    Thanks, Leah–and thanks for doing what you do :)

    I don’t know about the rest of you and your budgets at your job, but (so far anyway) my classroom budget for this year is ZERO. Thank God for, mini-grants from the state and some federal money that is out there. It’s time to get creative, folks.