More Leadership Changes Ahead for County

Finance, workforce development leaders are retiring
Trenda Rusher talks with Aaron Kraft at an April 15, 2009 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Trenda Rusher talks with Aaron Kraft at an April 15, 2009 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Rusher will be stepping down from her job as executive director of the Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department.

As the search gets under way to replace Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County’s top administrator, two other high-level staff members have announced their retirements.

Trenda Rusher, who has worked for the county for 26 years, is stepping down as executive director of the Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, which serves as the local agency for the state’s Michigan Works! workforce development program. Finance director Peter Ballios will be retiring after 38 years with the county.

Both moves were announced Tuesday morning in an email sent to county commissioners and department heads. Neither Rusher nor Ballios could be reached by The Chronicle for comment.

On Tuesday morning at a joint meeting of the soon-to-merge Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti chambers of commerce, Guenzel told The Chronicle that the county would be conducting a search to replace Ballios. However, at this point they won’t be doing the same for Rusher’s position. Instead, county leaders will be looking at possibly reorganizing the operations that she supervises, he said.

A National Expert

Rusher has been noted over the years for her effectiveness in securing state and federal funding for the county’s workforce development initiatives. Most recently, ETCS has pulled in millions of dollars in federal economic stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including over $4 million to weatherize local residences and $3.6 million for adult training services and summer youth employment.

Rusher also is active on the state and national levels, and is considered an expert in the field of workforce development. She serves on the board of the Michigan Community Action Agency Association, the state Council for Labor and Economic Growth, and the National Association of Counties, among other groups, and is a frequent speaker at national conventions on the issue of workforce development. Locally, she heads the county’s Workforce Development Board – which oversees the county’s Michigan Works! program – and the Community Action Board, an advisory group for community programs that include weatherization, food assistance and other services for low-income residents.

In a conversation with The Chronicle at the joint chamber breakfast meeting, Mike Finney – who’s executive director of the area’s economic development agency, Ann Arbor SPARK – credited Rusher with forming the MEGA Partnership, a group that meets monthly to discuss regional economic and workforce development. In addition to the county, other municipalities, and Ann Arbor SPARK, MEGA members include the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti chambers of commerce.

Finney said that MEGA has been a forum to allow these different groups to  coordinate their efforts better, and that many of SPARK’s programs – including its Shifting Gears program for displaced auto workers – emerged from these discussions. SPARK receives $130,000 from ETCS for this and other programs, he said.

Handling the Transition

Peter Ballios oversees the county’s finance operations and played a key role over the past year in developing the two-year budget for 2010 and 2011, which the board passed in December. The department includes the county’s budget director, Jennifer Watson, as well as the administration of payroll, purchasing, accounts payable and accounts receivable.

A job posting for the next finance director will be made on Jan. 19, according to Tuesday’s email announcing the retirements, sent by deputy county administrator Verna McDaniel. The retirements were effective as of Dec. 31, 2009, but both Ballios and Rusher have agreed to stay for up to 90 days to help with a transition.

Meanwhile, a posting for the county administrator’s job was made Monday on the county’s website. It includes a note stating that an internal candidate is being considered for the job – McDaniel is considered a strong candidate. Guenzel, who announced his intent to retire late last year, is expected to stay until mid-May to help manage the transition. The board of commissioners, which is conducting the search for Guenzel’s replacement, plans to hold interviews for the position later this month.


  1. By Oldnormal
    January 13, 2010 at 6:03 pm | permalink

    The County is in deep do do with Guenzel’s retirement. None of the internal applicants have the experience to navigate an environment with scarce resources. They pale when compared to Bob!

  2. By D
    January 14, 2010 at 8:48 am | permalink

    Maybe the organization is in deep doo doo because of the lack of leadership of Guenzel. Commisioner Ouimet warned the organization prior to the housing market crash that the downturn was coming. Other counties made provisions prior to the downturn. Under Guenzel’s tutelage, the County made no such preparations. Guenzel either did not have the ability to read the indicators, did not have qualified staff, or knew he could make up the loss on the backs of the employees and cutting services. Truman said the buck stops here. Perhaps Guenzel should be given the appropriate blame for the conditions of the County and less praise.

  3. By Richard
    January 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm | permalink

    D…you are on the money. There is a HUGE difference between good management and good leadership. Guenzel provided management but very little leadership. The County bureaucracy is a lot more dysfunctional than most would care to admit.

    Trenda Rusher will not be missed. She will go out with great fanfare, but her impact will be grossly overstated. The other guy is leaving as a direct result of Guenzel’s retirement…Guenzel protected him far more than he should have.

  4. February 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    Though it will be a big loss that Trenda Rusher will be retiring, it will open new and fresh ideas opportunities to others.