County Counts on Census 2010

Census still hiring in Washtenaw, county commissioners told

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (March 3, 2010): A light agenda, coupled with virtually no discussion on any of the items under consideration, resulted in a brief meeting for county commissioners on Wednesday.

Census 2010 T-shirt

This T-shirt was among several promotional items given to commissioners on Wednesday by local representatives of the 2010 Census.

Agenda items that were discussed in more detail at last week’s administrative briefing – including health screenings for refugees, funding for services to low-income families, and a bond refunding for Sylvan Township – were approved with no comment on Wednesday.

Also during the meeting, commissioners got an update on Census 2010 efforts from two representatives who are helping oversee the local count. Commissioner Conan Smith issued a statement of disclosure related to a potential conflict of interest, an advocate for the homeless urged the county to support a rotating outdoor shelter, and commissioners went into executive session to discuss a lawsuit settlement – possibly related to a recent Supreme Court action in the legal battle with the townships of Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti.

And ending several months of speculation, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. told The Chronicle that he plans to run for re-election as a commissioner – not as a candidate for state representative.

Census 2010

Toine Murphy and Tarik Green, two partnership specialists from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Detroit office, came to Wednesday’s meeting and gave a brief update on the upcoming count, which begins in less than a month. April 1 is “Census Day” – data collected should reflect the status of each household on that day. Murphy and Green are responsible for the count in this area, including a focus on students at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Murphy said Census 2010 will have only 10 questions – residents will get a mailing, then “ground troops” will be sent out to canvass the area as well, with the goal of getting as high a response rate as possible. He said there’s been an unprecedented awareness campaign to encourage citizens to respond. They’ll be setting up “Be Counted” centers to help count transient people, and will be working to provide help for people who are disabled, Murphy said.

Andrew Cluley, Toine Murphy, Tarik Green

Andrew Cluley of WEMU interviews Toine Murphy, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau. To the right is Tarik Green, another partnership specialist.

The count is important to communities for several reasons, Murphy said. For one, the results will determine Congressional representation. Resources, such as federal grants, are also allocated based on census data.

The U.S. Census is still hiring in this area, Murphy said. Anyone interested in applying should call the jobs hotline at 866-861-2010.

Commissioner Conan Smith said he worked as a census-taker in 1990, describing it as a “great job.”

Rolland Sizemore Jr., chair of the board, said he’d asked that Murphy and Green to give a presentation to the board so that everyone would be better informed about the process. He reiterated Murphy’s point about resource allocation, noting that if Washtenaw County residents aren’t counted accurately, “that is money we won’t get.”

Murphy and Green later handed out canvas bags to commissioners with census promotional items, including T-shirts, cups and other trinkets.

Smith Addresses Potential Conflict of Interest

Later this month, the board will be voting on an agreement with the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, a Ferndale-based nonprofit led by commissioner Conan Smith. The alliance will be managing the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, which Washtenaw County is being asked to join. When this possibility arose late last year, some commissioners raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest for Smith. [See Chronicle coverage from a Nov. 24, 2009 administrative briefing and Dec. 2, 2009 county board meeting.]

To address that issue, Smith read a statement into the record at Wednesday’s board meeting. Here is his statement in its entirety:

Colleagues and Members of the Public: In two weeks, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners will vote on authorizing the administrator to sign a participation agreement with the Michigan Suburbs Alliance to secure membership in and support from the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. The County’s financial contribution for this important membership and support is $76,690. To avoid the appearance of any impropriety, I intend to abstain from that vote.

I am the Executive Director of the Suburbs Alliance, a Michigan not-for-profit corporation, and as such the signatory authority on behalf of the organization for this agreement. While I will be the named party to this agreement, I have no pecuniary interest in it and receive no direct or indirect benefit from it.

Contracts of public servants with public entities are governed by P.A. 317 of 1968, which provides, in part, a procedure for a public servant to disclose any pecuniary interest he/she might have resulting from a contract between the entity that the public servant works for and the public body upon which the public servant serves. In the present case, I will not direct or indirectly benefit from the County’s membership in the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office; however, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and to foster full public disclosure on this matter, I am following the procedure outlined by P.A. 317 of 1968. To that extent, the following should be noted:

  • I am making this disclosure more than seven days before the issue is brought before the board for a vote;
  • I intend to abstain from the vote on this issue; and
  • I hope for a 2/3 majority of the board, as required by P.A. 317, to approve the agreement.

I am in full support of this process and anticipate our moving forward gracefully in the full view of the public.

Smith asked commissioners if they had any questions for him. There were none. [.pdf file of P.A. 317 of 1968: "Contracts of Public Services with Public Entities"]

What Got Approved?

Several items had been discussed at last week’s administrative briefing, and were approved by commissioners on Wednesday. They include:

  • A health screening program for 50-100 refugees who settle in Washtenaw County each year. The screenings will be funded by the state Department of Community Health.
  • Creation of a full-time management analyst position in the Office of Community Development, paid for by a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant. The position will assist the office’s housing manager with land bank activities and will work with local nonprofit housing developers.
  • Acceptance of a $597,568 federal grant for services to low-income families, whose income is at or below 125% of the local poverty level. The grant requires $239,577 in county matching funds and will be administered by the Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS) department.
  • Acceptance of a $97,781 federal grant, also administrated through ETCS, for job training and employment services for about 90 people receiving food aid.
  • Acceptance of a $1.553 million federal job training grant, plus $293,769 in state funds, for welfare recipients and at-risk workers. The services will be provided through ETCS.
  • Authorization to allow the county treasurer to borrow up to $50 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all 80 taxing jurisdictions throughout the county. After March 1, these jurisdictions turn their delinquent taxes over to the county, and are reimbursed for that amount. The county treasurer then assumes responsibility for collecting these delinquent taxes.
  • Approval of a $10.4 million bond refunding for Sylvan Township, allowing the township to restructure the debt it had incurred for building its water and wastewater systems.

Commissioners did not discuss these items on Wednesday. They had raised issues related to some of these topics at their Feb. 24 administrative briefing, which previews the agenda for the regular board meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board Agenda: Health, Finance Issues"]

Public Commentary

Brian Nord spoke on behalf of Camp Take Notice and MISSION (Michigan Itinerant Shelter System: Interdependent Out of Necessity). He said the homeless camp, which is set up in a patch of land near an I-94 cloverleaf, has been threatened with eviction by the state police and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT). Nord called the action callous and potentially life-threatening. Though there are open beds in the county’s rotating shelter system, Nord said that for a variety of reasons, that isn’t an option for many Camp Take Notice residents. [The rotating shelter, which operates during the winter month, is a partnership between the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and 15 local congregations. This year, the number of beds in the rotating shelter system was increased from 25 to 50 through emergency funding by the city of Ann Arbor and the county.]

If Camp Take Notice is disbanded, Nord said its residents will seek outdoor shelter elsewhere, in a place likely less accessible to those offering supportive services. The camp is a refuge, he said, something that many residents don’t find in traditional shelters.

Nord pointed out that the county is about halfway toward meeting its bricks-and mortar goal of having 500 beds for the homeless, as specified in the 2004 Blueprint to End Homelessness. He also noted that they’re six years into the 10-year plan. Allowing outdoor rotating shelters, with supportive services, may be a way of reaching that goal until the county emerges from its economic downturn.

Responding to Nord’s comments, commissioner Kristin Judge praised the efforts of MISSION, saying she’d met with them and found them to be a heartfelt group who really cared about the condition of the homeless. She asked for the administration to give the board an update on the status of the Blueprint to End Homelessness at some future meeting.

Lawsuit Settlement: Executive Session

The board went into executive session at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, citing the need to discuss a lawsuit settlement. Though the case was unspecified, an attorney for Dykema Gossett attended the meeting – that law firm has been representing the county in a legal dispute with the townships of Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti. The townships sued the county in 2006 over the cost of sheriff deputy patrols.

Last week, the state Supreme Court refused to reconsider a motion made by the townships to hear the case. [See Chronicle coverage: "Townships Lose Again in Deputy Patrol Case"] The county now plans to ask for a judgment to cover costs of providing patrols to the townships without a contract for most of 2006 – potentially around $2 million.

After returning from their closed session, the board took no action and immediately adjourned.

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

Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman

Next board meeting: The next regular meeting is Wednesday, March 17, 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.

Bob Guenzel, Verna McDaniel

County administrator Bob Guenzel confers with Verna McDaniel, deputy administrator, during the March 3 board of commissioners meeting. McDaniel is in line to replace Guenzel in mid-May as the new county administrator.