County Board Gets Update From Sheriff

Also, concerns raised over internal financial controls

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Feb. 17, 2010): In an extensive presentation to the board, sheriff Jerry Clayton laid out changes he’s made in his department since he took office just over a year ago, and discussed his goals and priorities for the coming years.

Gene DeRossett, Elmer White, Derrick Jackson, Jerry Clayton

Sheriff Jerry Clayton, right, talks with Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the sheriff's department, before the Feb. 17 county board of commissioners meeting. Behind them are Gene DeRossett, left, chief administrative officer for the 14-A District Court, and Elmer White, who gave an update on the USS Washtenaw exhibit. (Photo by the writer.)

One of the most significant changes was financial. In 2009, overtime hours dropped 36%, leading to nearly $1 million in savings during the year. The department also raised $1 million in new revenues, exceeding Clayton’s projections.

Beyond that, Clayton presented his broad philosophical approach to managing law enforcement in the county, and discussed some of the challenges he faces in light of the current economy.

Law enforcement also came up in a separate discussion during the board’s Wednesday meeting, as commissioner Wes Prater raised concerns over the county’s internal financial controls. Though he’s been agitating for action on this front for several months, his decision to ask the board to form a review committee was prompted by the recent arrest of a county employee charged with embezzling over $100,000.

Commissioners also spent considerable time on Wednesday debating the process of formally revising their priorities. The effort is aimed at adapting the priorities to reflect the county’s diminishing resources. While commissioners agreed that community input was crucial, there was no clear consensus about what the process for gathering that input should be, or how much time it will take.

Finally, the board got a brief update on the Wireless Washtenaw project, a coda to a report given at their Jan. 20 meeting. The firm that’s handling the project, 20/20 Communications, is partnering with Southfield-based Internet 123 and plans to submit a revised business plan for Wireless Washtenaw within 60 days.

Sheriff’s Update

Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton began his presentation by thanking commissioners for their support during his first year in office. He said it was important to continue to communicate and get feedback about the work of his department. “I believe an educated and engaged community is our best partner,” he said.

He outlined four core strategies that guide the department: 1) providing community leadership, 2) building partnerships and collaborations, 3) focusing on service excellence, and 4) providing internal direction and accountability.

Clayton pointed to 10 specific changes he’d like to make during his first four years in office. If he’s re-elected, he said, there will be an additional 10 “points of change.” He didn’t discuss these initiatives in detail, but presented them for commissioners as part of his overview:

  1. Implement an operational service delivery program.
  2. Create a Sheriff’s Office Youth Engagement Initiative.
  3. Establish an early intervention system.
  4. Implement a fiscal management system.
  5. Create an employee training and professional development program.
  6. Implement inmate behavior management and community policing.
  7. Implement a comprehensive and objective employee evaluation program.
  8. Implement an inmate population management plan.
  9. Conduct a service delivery assessment and survey process.
  10. Implement a public performance reporting program.

Before coming into office, Clayton said he knew there’d be challenges in his first year, given the types of change he wanted to implement. Changing the organization’s values takes time, he said. There were also challenges he didn’t anticipate, including those related to the budget. In fact, managing the budget was crucial to ease anxiety among commissioners as well as residents, he said. During his first year in office, making the department more efficient without compromising quality was a key focus.

Metrics and assessment are important tools, Clayton said. It was important to assess the current reality, not simply make assumptions.

Collaboration is another goal, building partnerships throughout the county. Clayton cited a recent agreement with Ypsilanti to take on the city’s dispatch operations. His department’s dispatch was able to absorb the four Ypsilanti dispatchers without going over budget, he said, while helping out the financially strapped city. Another example is the inter-agency collaboration among police chiefs countywide, who meet regularly to work on a range of projects. As a result of this effort, they’ve formed one metro SWAT team, Clayton said, replacing the previous four that were operating in different municipalities. He noted that the University of Michigan, because of its unique needs, still maintains its own SWAT team.

They continue to look for other opportunities to partner, Clayton said – with all units of government throughout the county, with the board of commissioners, and with local human services agencies, among others.

Clayton spoke about the need for fiscal responsibility, especially in the historical context of his department. [He was alluding to tensions between the board and the previous sheriff, Dan Minzey, related to chronic budget overruns.] As part of the county’s overall budget reductions in 2009, the sheriff’s department took a $500,000 cut, he said, and worked to reduce the cost of doing business.

It was clear that overtime costs were a tremendous expense, particularly in corrections. They achieved a 36% reduction of overtime hours, Clayton said – from 71,829 hours in 2008 to 45,862 hours in 2009. In dollars, that’s a drop from $2.478 million in 2008 to $1.512 million in 2009.

Some expenses are out of their control, Clayton noted. For example, his department has more people on military leave than any other department in the county. “I’m proud of that,” he said, but it needs to be recognized as having an impact on the budget.

On the revenue side, the department found ways to increase revenues by nearly $1 million, he said – from $13.433 million in 2008 to $14.42 million in 2009. It was important to look for opportunities to increase revenue, but not on the backs of people’s unfortunate circumstances, he said – it’s a balance. One change resulting in increased revenue was to bring back services that were being contracted out to private vendors – now, those are being handled in-house, he said, at a lower cost.

While money is important, he said, it’s not the mission of his department. In 2010 and beyond, a major goal is to reform the county’s social justice system, working with all stakeholders. The current way of managing the county’s offending population really is the definition of insanity, he said – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes. The county needs to look at a continuum of services, including factors like housing, education and mental health services on one end as preventive measures, to post-incarceration re-entry programs on the other.

Clayton touched on two other issues in his report: the jail expansion, and the cost model for contracted police services.

The jail expansion will add 112 beds to the facility at Hogback Road, which currently has 332 beds. A new intake center is designed to allow the staff to address some behavior issues more effectively, Clayton said. But staffing levels are still being worked out with the county administration – Clayton expects to bring more information to the board at their March 18 working session, with the goal of bringing a proposal on staffing levels for commissioners to vote on in April.

Some local municipalities contract with the sheriff’s department to provide deputy patrols. On that topic, Clayton said his simple goal was keep the cost high enough so that it doesn’t drive the board of commissioners to eliminate the service because they’re not covering their expenses, while being low enough for local municipalities to afford. Clayton said he plans to bring a proposal to the board by the third quarter of this year. [Current contracts with municipalities run through 2011.]

Commissioner Questions for the Sheriff

Commissioners took turns asking questions and responding to Clayton’s presentation. Many of them also praised his performance during his first year in office. This summary of that dialogue is grouped thematically.

Commissioner Questions: Police Services

Several commissioners had comments and questions related to police services. Barbara Bergman asked what criteria Clayton was looking at to determine cost. She said she’d like to see minutes from the police services committee, to get a better idea of the elements involved.

Clayton told Bergman the committee was charged with looking at the existing model for police services, and at the cost of providing that service. The current model includes all direct costs, some indirect, and none of the overhead. In 2009, the department had focused on identifying direct and indirect costs that are part of the current contract. Clayton said they examined every item that’s associated with providing police services to a community, from business supplies to cruisers, from his position to a clerk. For each item, they asked the question: Is this related to police services, and if so, at what percent? Clayton said the goal is to provide a baseline of information, which they can use to then have a philosophical discussion of the issue.

Mark Ouimet asked about how recent staffing changes for police services had affected neighboring jurisdictions. [He was alluding to the decision by Ypsilanti Township to decrease the number of sheriff patrol deputies that work in the township from 38 to 31, while Scio Township added three deputies, for a total of eight. See Chronicle coverage "County Board OKs Ypsi Twp. Deputy Cuts"]

Clayton said he’s been looking at how deputies are being deployed. In addition to deputies who are contracted to work for specific municipalities, there are 12 deputies that serve the entire county, paid out of the county’s general fund budget. His staff has been tracking where those general fund deputies spend their time, Clayton said. They’re also looking at decisions that those deputies make regarding where they spend their discretionary time – that is, time when they’re not responding to a call for service. If they’re not on a service call, Clayton said, he wants the deputies to be in parts of the county where the sheriff’s department traditionally hasn’t spent much time. Clayton says his commitment coming into office was that the general fund deputies shouldn’t just be focused east of US-23.

Ouimet asked whether there was any issue with one jurisdiction needing more support on a routine basis from general fund deputies than in the past. If so, he said, how was the sheriff’s department dealing with that? Clayton said that for the eastern part of the county, which includes Ypsilanti Township, numbers so far this year were tracking consistently with 2009. They still have enough staff to handle calls without needing additional resources, Clayton said, but they’re forced to be reactive, not proactive. They don’t have the resources to address root causes of crime, and that concerns him.

Commissioner Kristin Judge asked whether there will be a new model for police services in 2012. Saying the current system seems to be broken, she said she’d like to see an entirely new approach.

Clayton agreed that there were better ways to handle countywide law enforcement. He pointed to the example of collaboration in Dexter, Dexter Township and Webster Township around public safety services. But the first thing, he added, was to identify what it costs to provide services. It’s important to come as close as possible to agreeing on that before moving forward, he said.

Commissioner Questions: Sheriff’s Department Overtime

Wes Prater asked for more details regarding the reduction in overtime. Clayton said that in the corrections unit, they looked at staffing levels for each shift, post by post, and tried to determine what was essential. Through that process, they identified three posts that they felt were non-essential, Clayton said, and which had historically been staffed with overtime hours. They eliminated those posts on a trial basis to determine if they’d made the correct assessment, and decided that they had.

Another example is in transport between the jail and courts. They adjusted their staffing levels to better mirror the demands of the courts, Clayton said, and were able to reduce overtime as a result.

Kristin Judge asked how Clayton manages the staffing when some of his personnel go on military leave. Are temporary workers hired? Clayton said that it’s typically managed with overtime, and adjusting staff deployment. Judge clarified that having overtime is a structural aspect of the department’s budget, and asked whether Clayton felt he’d gotten it under control as much as he could. Clayton said his department would continue to challenge their assumptions and make adjustments whenever possible.

Commissioner Questions: Continuum of Sheriff’s Services/Sanctions

Though Sheriff Clayton’s presentation was labeled an “annual report,” Barbara Bergman said she’d like to hear updates from him more regularly. She noted the community will be facing state funding cuts to mental health and substance abuse services, which will affect law enforcement as well. The county’s engagement center, operated by the Washtenaw County Health Organization to handle mental health and substance abuse emergencies, is used as a resource by sheriff’s deputies, Bergman said, but she’d like to see other law enforcement agencies take advantage of it too. Clayton said he felt other agencies would be receptive to using the center, when appropriate.

Jeff Irwin praised Clayton for his professionalism and hands-on approach and for his emphasis on gathering data and metrics to use as a basis for decision-making. He raised the question of recidivism, noting that 70% of people released from jail in the county are returned there within two years. What can the community do, he asked, to make an impact on changing that?

Clayton said it was important to accurately assess the risk of people coming through the criminal justice system, to determine who is really a serious threat to the community. For those who aren’t, there need to be alternatives, such as tethering and work release programs. These need to be programs in which the courts have confidence, he said.

But equally important, Clayton said, was the need to address root causes. Some folks are bad, he said, but a lot of people in jail have other issues – a lack of education, substance abuse or mental health problems. It’s a community issue, Clayton argued, and both ends of the spectrum need to be addressed: human services as well as public safety. Law enforcement officers can be an important partner, he said, working with human service agencies to help people in the community who might otherwise end up in jail. Irwin noted that the program known as JPORT (Justice Project Outreach Team) was an excellent example of that kind of collaboration.

Irwin then brought up the issue of race, noting that two-thirds of the jail population is African-American, while the overall population in the county is less than 20%. He told Clayton he was hoping to hear some “big ideas” about how to address this problem.

Clayton said that, again, it was a challenge for the entire criminal justice system – that kind of disparity was seen throughout the continuum. You start addressing it by having frank conversations, some that make people uncomfortable, he said. They’re uncomfortable for fear of saying the wrong thing and being accused of racism. Is it because African-Americans are more prone to crime? Clayton said he’d argue no. Are socio-economic factors at play? That’s part of it, he said. There are some very tough questions that need to be asked, Clayton said, and it’s a conversation they all need to have at some point.

Conan Smith asked how Clayton was defining success – the rate of recidivism might not be as important, for example, as the actual number of recidivists.

There are ways to lower the recidivism rate, Clayton noted, but that might not achieve the outcomes they want. And the sheriff’s department isn’t the lone player in addressing the problem – that’s why they have to take a systems approach.

In general, Clayton said, it’s challenging to measure police services beyond the traditional metrics of calls for service, response times and types of crime. One thing he’d like to do is to take surveys of residents about their perceptions of safety, and get feedback on the department’s services. It’s just one of many avenues to assess their performance, he said.

Ken Schwartz asked how many inmates are residents of Washtenaw County, and how many live outside the county. He understood on a humanistic level why it was important to provide a continuum of services, but he felt more comfortable investing in residents than out-of-towners. Clayton said he believed most inmates were from this county.

Wes Prater said they hadn’t really mentioned one of the major causes of recidivism – a lack of decent-paying jobs. They need a program to help folks find employment, he said, then the county would see less recidivism.

Commissioner Questions: Central Dispatch

Leah Gunn asked how the new central dispatch operation was proceeding. Clayton reported that there’s been a slight delay in the move to co-locate the county’s dispatch with the city of Ann Arbor, because of a vendor’s delay in installing some equipment. They’re also negotiating a small fee, he said, that the city wants to charge the county, which he said would be offset by revenue from taking over Ypsilanti’s dispatch. The attorneys for Ann Arbor and county are working up a memorandum of understanding, he said. Long-term, Clayton said they’ll see cost savings from this move, which is also laying the foundation for more partnering with the dispatch operations from other jurisdictions.

Internal Financial Controls

Later that evening, during the board meeting, commissioner Wes Prater asked that a motion be added to the agenda to establish a new committee that would review the county’s internal financial control policies. The committee he proposed, of not more than five commissioners, would review all internal financial control policies and report back to the board and administration with findings and recommendations.

Other commissioners seemed surprised by the proposal.

Leah Gunn opposed the move, saying it was her strong belief that overseeing internal financial controls was the responsibility of the county administrator, who also serves as controller. Their audits are always clean, and win awards, she added. [For 18 consecutive years, the county has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.] “Frankly, I don’t see any reason for doing this,” Gunn said.

Conan Smith said he had no objection to such a committee, though he agreed that the county administrator had responsibility for internal controls. He said they’ve talked about the need for more review and it seemed reasonable, given their push for more transparency, coupled with the current budget challenges. He said he’d like to hear from county administrator Bob Guenzel as to what kind of controls are currently in place, and what changes might be needed.

Prater said he believes the county has a systemic problem regarding internal controls. He pointed to the arrest earlier this month of a county employee working in community mental health – part of the Washtenaw County Health Organization – who was charged with embezzling more than $100,000 over the past 16 years. In light of those allegations, he said, they needed to act urgently to protect the dollars of their constituents. He noted that the auditors don’t conduct an audit of internal financial controls, and that the board needs to act to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Barbara Bergman countered that no amount of review would have uncovered the embezzlement, which she called a “great scam.” Describing Prater’s motion as vague, she also questioned how the proposed committee would conduct its review, and what kind of reports they would make back to the board.

Mark Ouimet, a former banker, clarified with Prater that the term “review” in the motion did not carry the formal meaning of an audit review. He noted that the auditors for the county, Rehmann Robson, do a test on the county’s receivables and payables, but don’t audit internal financial controls. Regarding the embezzlement, Ouimet said he assumed that a forensic accountant had been asked to piece together what had happened, and that the forensic report would reveal any weaknesses in the system that could be changed to prevent future problems.

Ouimet also said they needed to clarify the committee’s role – if the board moves ahead with this approach, they need to be clear about what they want the committee to do.

Jeff Irwin had similar concerns about the committee’s scope. While he didn’t think forming such a committee did any harm, Irwin noted that commissioners already had opportunities to meet with the auditors and raise any questions they might have. He suggested that his colleagues on the board go through the previous years’ management letters from the auditors and see if there are any threads that warrant concern, and to sit down with the county’s financial staff to ascertain how they do their jobs and whether there’s sufficient oversight. He said he hadn’t found internal controls lacking, and he wondered why Prater didn’t pursue these issues himself, without forming a committee.

Prater responded by saying that all last year, he had requested that the county’s financial staff make their budget reports conform with the federal Uniform Budget Act. “It was like pulling chicken’s teeth to finally get it done,” he said. This year, he said, he decided to bring the issue directly to the board. If an employee could get away with embezzling money for so long, he said, then something is wrong with the process. Prater also criticized the administration for not providing any information about the situation. ["Communication within Uniform Budget Act format" is one of the outcomes listed in a set of initiatives that the administration provided to the board earlier this year – .pdf file of those initiatives.]

Ken Schwartz said it seemed that anyone sitting on the committee would need knowledge of financial issues that he wasn’t sure everyone had. He moved to table the motion until the March 3 meeting, asking Prater to return with more details about what exactly the committee would be expected to do. [.pdf file of most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, for 2008.]

Outcome: The motion to table the proposal to establish a committee to look at internal financial controls passed, with dissent from Prater.

The topic came up again at the county board of commissioner’s Thursday evening working session. Guenzel reminded the board that Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, had briefed commissioners in a closed executive session last year, before the situation was made public. He has asked Heidt and Judy Kramer, the county’s risk management coordinator, to make a written report about the incident, how it occurred and what steps are being taken in its wake.

Guenzel also suggested scheduling a working session to bring in Mark Kettner of Rehmann Robson and county accounting manager Peter Collinson, to review with commissioners the existing internal controls.

Setting Board Priorities

After passing a two-year budget late last year for 2010-2011, commissioners have said that 2010 will be a planning year. They took another step in that direction on Wednesday, with a proposal for a timeline to evaluate and revise priorities for the county. [See the  county's website page with current priorities]

The proposal led to a lengthy discussion about how best to seek input from the community, with some commissioners raising concerns that the initial goal of setting priorities by early May – just before the departure of county administrator Bob Guenzel, who is retiring on May 14 – was too ambitious.

Ken Schwartz began the discussion by passing out a proposed outline for the process of setting priorities. It had been developed by a committee chaired by Schwartz, and including Conan Smith and Kristin Judge. Their hope, Schwartz said, was to marry the ideal and the practical as the board sets priorities that reflect the new economic reality. The loss of revenues and services is a “nasty fact of life today in Michigan,” he said

As they move ahead to solicit commissioner and community input, Schwartz said they also need to include the input of a planning group that’s working with the administration on several major initiatives. [.pdf file of those initiatives] The advisory group includes Guenzel, incoming county administrator Verna McDaniel, several county department heads, water resources commissioner Janis Bobrin (who’s representing the other elected county officials), and Conan Smith (representing the board of commissioners).

Schwartz characterized the timeline as a work in progress, and said he hoped that commissioners could set aside their personal ideologies and be open, flexible, and charitable to each another as they go through this process.

The draft timeline was presented as follows:

  • Step 1: Commisioner Input. Create and distribute interest/priorities survey to commissioners. Conduct interviews individually or in small groups with commissioners who choose not do complete a written survey. Desired outcomes are to identify individual priorities and interests, as well as consensus on high-level issues. Target date: Feb. 22 to March 8, 2010.
  • Step 2: Community Input. Hold community focus groups in established forums at commissioners’ discretion. Conduct survey on county’s website. Send press release to local media. The desired outcome is to get feedback on specific questions related to board priorities. Target date: March 8 to April 1, 2010.
  • Step 3: Data Analysis. Synthesize data from commissioner/community input. Create a leadership alignment document. Have that document reviewed by the administration’s planning group. Target date: April 1-16, 2010.
  • Step 4: Board Planning Session. Identify new board priorities. Find consensus on high-level community outcomes. Identify key initiatives associated with those outcomes. Identify 3-5 “true values” to direct and influence the culture and decisions of the organization. To be undertaken at an April 22, 2010 working session.
  • Step 5: Board Action. Board adopts priorities by May 5, 2010.

Commissioner Discussion on Priorities

Out of the gate, Ronnie Peterson said he didn’t see how they’d accomplish these goals by May. Employees also need to be a part of the process, he said. Peterson also wanted to make sure the board had a healthy discussion about priorities and the budget with county administrator Bob Guenzel before he retired in mid-May.

Schwartz acknowledged that the timeline was compressed, but said he didn’t anticipate a radical change from the board’s current priorities. Verna McDaniel, the current deputy administrator who’ll be replacing Guenzel, added that they weren’t starting from scratch.

Barbara Bergman cautioned that it was a delicate matter to tell the community how their input would be used. She didn’t want to tell them it would have meaning if it didn’t. She also wanted the board to sign off on any survey that might be used.

Wes Prater also had concerns about how to solicit community input. The county has roughly 325,000 residents, he said, and the district he represented was very different from the districts represented by Bergman and Leah Gunn. [Gunn and Bergman represent two of the four Ann Arbor districts. Prater's district covers the more rural townships of York and Augusta, as well as the city of Milan and parts of Ypsilanti Township.]

Specifically, Prater said many of his constituents don’t know about the county’s website, so it wouldn’t be sufficient to do only an online survey. And the last time they did focus groups – related to law enforcement issues – it was a “real donnybrook,” Prater said, with the same people showing up at each one. Even if surveys are mailed, he said the response rate wouldn’t be high. That meant doing phone surveys, which would take a lot of time and effort to get a meaningful sample.

Jessica Ping noted that many people now don’t have landlines and can only be reached by cell phone – a traditional phone survey wouldn’t likely reach that younger demographic. She also said that many people in her district – which includes six rural townships in southwest Washtenaw – don’t have Internet access, making the online survey difficult. One option, she suggested, is to ask local municipalities to include a written survey when they send out the next tax bill.

Mark Ouimet suggested getting input through other elected officials at the local level, as well as from community groups like chambers of commerce, schools and other organizations. The bigger question for him, he said, is that after they get this input, what will they do with it?

Gunn warned that doing a survey would be expensive, and wondered what kind of budget they had for it. Staff time would also be a factor, she said.

Conan Smith pointed out that this was a representative form of government – each commissioner is responsible for guiding the county in the best way they know how. The process of understanding their district’s priorities might differ, he said. Ultimately, some commissioners might decide they don’t need to go through a process of formal feedback, which Smith said was totally acceptable.

Both Peterson and Gunn raised the issue of the state’s budget, and how the financial crisis in Lansing would negatively impact the county. Saying “brace yourself,” Peterson cautioned that although the board talked about 2010 as a planning year, he felt they’d be dealing with additional budget cuts because of the state, since many county departments receive significant state funding to provide services. Gunn described the state legislature as in “absolute gridlock.” “The whole thing in Lansing is a terrible mess,” she said, and the county will be called upon to provide the final safety net when state services get cut.

Judge went back to the question of the survey, saying she wanted to get a sense of whether the board wanted to move ahead with it. She didn’t want to spend staff time or her own time developing something that wasn’t going to be used. She made a formal motion directing the board to take a survey of residents, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Jeff Irwin said he didn’t support the motion at this point because it felt like they were flying by the seat of their pants. There wasn’t any dispute over the importance of fulsome public input, he said, but it wasn’t clear how best to do that, and at what cost.

Judge again asked the board for direction regarding the survey, saying they needed to give guidance on whether they wanted to pursue it. Smith recommended that he, Judge and Schwartz meet and revise the proposed process, based on the feedback they’d heard. Schwartz noted that the timeline wasn’t set in stone: “I was just trying to avoid the election season, when things get crazy.”

Outcome: Peterson moved that the proposal be sent back to committee for revision – the motion was unanimously supported.

Wireless Washtenaw

At the board’s Jan. 20 meeting, James McFarlane, who manages the county’s information technology unit, briefed commissioners on Wireless Washtenaw, an effort to bring wireless Internet service to the entire county. He returned on Wednesday to answer a question they’d posed: What would happen if the county pulled the plug on this project?

The county has a contract with 20/20 Communications of Ann Arbor to provide the service, but the business has struggled to get financing since the deal was signed in 2006. At this point, limited service is provided in Ann Arbor, Saline and Manchester, as well as Scio and Sylvan townships. In January, McFarlane told commissioners that about 1,000 residents use the free service, and there are 540 paid subscribers.

If the county pulled out of the project, 20/20 would remove its equipment from a water tower in Manchester and from several nodes in Ann Arbor, McFarlane said, and users in those areas wouldn’t receive service.

McFarlane reported that 20/20 has recently partnered with a Southfield firm, Internet 123, and hopes to submit to the county a revised business plan for Wireless Washtenaw within the next 60 days. Also, 20/20 is still awaiting word on whether it will be awarded $4.2 million in stimulus funds that the business has applied for. McFarlane said the new partnership with Internet 123 would provide the resources to move forward on the project even without the federal funding.

Commissioner Jessica Ping said it seemed to make sense to wait until the county sees the new business plan before making a decision on the fate of Wireless Washtenaw. McFarlane agreed, adding that the decision regarding federal stimulus funds would also be a reason to wait.

Public Commentary

Two people spoke during public commentary on Wednesday.

Thomas Partridge began by objecting to the requirement that speakers give their address before addressing the board, saying that it posed a risk in this age of Internet attacks. He called on the board to send a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to renew his pledge to the platform on which he campaigned – a progressive platform based on Midwestern values. As Obama comes to Ann Arbor to deliver the University of Michigan commencement address on May 1, Partridge said he hopes the president will keep in mind his predecessors John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Partridge noted that when Johnson delivered a commencement  address at UM in 1964, he laid out his plans for the Great Society programs that later were a hallmark of his administration.

Elmer White gave an update on fundraising efforts to build a museum-quality display for artifacts of the USS Washtenaw, the most decorated warship of the Vietnam War. He said he was happy to report that over the past weekend they’d met their financial goals. “I thought it was going to be difficult, but people came to us.” He thanked commissioners for their support. The display will be installed in the lobby of the county building at 200 N. Main St.

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

Next board meeting: The next regular meeting is Wednesday, March 3, 2010 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. February 21, 2010 at 11:59 am | permalink

    If you have not listened to Sheriff Clayton on Community TV I strongly encourage you to do so. He is a “breath of fresh air” and a visionary that brings new ideas and leadership to an organization that has been drifting for too many years.

  2. By lorie
    February 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm | permalink

    I agree with the previous comment. Sheriff Clayton is a breath of fresh air and I am hopeful there will be measurable improvements in each category he outlined.

    In addition, I think that having “financial controls” is something entirely new for this department. Given that, I hope we give Sheriff Clayton some time to get this done so that these controls are consistent with the other goals he has AND corrected for the unintended consequences.

  3. By Mary Morgan
    February 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm | permalink

    Re. #2: To clarify, the concerns that were raised over internal financial controls were not directed toward the sheriff’s department. The county employee who is charged with embezzlement worked in the community mental health unit, and Wes Prater’s proposal was for a general review. There was no concern raised about the financial controls in place at the sheriff’s department.