County Settles Lawsuit with Salem Twp.

Also, extra funding for jail expansion, court approved

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (June 2, 2010): In the first meeting on a scaled-back summer schedule, county commissioners passed a resolution to settle a police services lawsuit with one of three townships that sued the county in 2006.

David Trent, Salem Township clerk

At right: David Trent, Salem Township clerk, attended Wednesday's meeting and thanked commissioners for approving a settlement over the police services lawsuit between the county and township. (Photos by the writer.)

Under terms of the settlement, Salem Township will pay the county nearly $48,000 to cover the costs of sheriff deputy patrols provided by the county in 2006. The townships of Salem, Augusta and Ypsilanti sued the county that year, disputing the amount that was charged for police services. The county and the other two townships are awaiting a judgment to resolve the issue – the county is asking for $2.1 million from Ypsilanti Township and nearly $96,000 from Augusta Township.

David Trent, Salem Township clerk, attended Wednesday’s board meeting and spoke during public commentary, thanking the board for the settlement and saying he was coming forward on behalf of the township board in hopes of starting the healing process between the township and the county. Several commissioners thanked township officials for ending the dispute.

In other agenda items, only one person spoke at a public hearing on the county millage rate, which was set later in the meeting. Commissioners also approved $1.35 million in additional funding to complete the expanded jail and new 14A-1 District Court, with some discussion about issues related to parking and a new Washtenaw Avenue entrance.

And although last month commissioner Ronnie Peterson had vowed to bring a resolution to the June 2 meeting that would reestablish a county land bank, on Wednesday he told commissioners he’d been asked by board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. to defer that action until their July 7 meeting. Saying he was respectful of that request, Peterson added, “On July 7th, I’ll be aggressive.”

The upcoming elections were mentioned, too. Commissioner Barbara Bergman chastised the Washtenaw County Road Commission for charging Scio Township $2,000 to locate a polling station for the August primary and November general election in the road commission’s Zeeb Road facility. Scio officials say they’ll find another venue, calling the road commission’s decision “disappointing at best.”

Police Services Lawsuit: Salem Settles

The resolution unanimously passed by commissioners on Wednesday effectively ends the smallest portion of the police services lawsuit brought by the townships of Ypsilanti, Augusta and Salem. The suit is winding down – earlier this year, the state Supreme Court refused to reconsider a motion made by the townships to hear the case, and sent it back to 38th Circuit Court Chief Judge Joseph Costello to rule on a judgment request. A hearing on the request took place on Wednesday morning in Monroe County Circuit Court.

The court has held that the townships are liable to the county for additional amounts to cover police services that the county provided to them between Jan. 1 and Dec. 5, 2006 – at $24 an hour more than the townships had paid under a previous contract.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Costello told the county that it needs to provide evidence documenting the specific number of hours of police services provided to the three townships during that time period. According to Jill Wheaton – a Dykema attorney who’s working on the case – after the county produces the backup documentation, it will then ask the court to enter a judgment for $24 per hour, plus interest and costs previously awarded by the court to the county. The amount totals $2,103,822 for Ypsilanti Township, which used 44 deputies, and $95,932 for Augusta Township, which used two deputies.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Ypsilanti and Augusta townships asked for a trial on the issue of whether they were liable for additional payments at all, but the court denied that request.

Salem Township has agreed to pay the additional $24 per hour for the police services provided to it during that time period – and Wednesday night’s approval by commissioners of the settlement agreement with Salem Township will allow that township to be dropped from the lawsuit. During the board meeting, commissioner Ken Schwartz – whose district includes Salem Township – clarified that the county would be entering an order to dismiss. Corporation counsel Curtis Hedger said that Costello had been informed of the likely settlement with Salem Township, and that the judge had simply indicated that the proper paperwork would need to be filed. Because the amounts requested by the county are calculated based on the number of hours of deputy patrols provided to each township during the period in dispute, it’s easy to separate out Salem from the other townships, Hedger said.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked a point of clarification: If the documentation produced by the county reveals a different number of hours charged to Salem Township, can the settlement be changed? No, Hedger said, they’ll be bound by the settlement agreement. But the county is confident that the numbers are right, he added.

During public commentary, David Trent – Salem Township’s clerk – spoke to the board, saying he thanked the commissioners on behalf of the township board, and was coming forward in the spirit of starting the healing process between the two groups. They looked forward to working with the county board in the future, he said.

Sizemore thanked Schwartz and the Salem Township board for working out the settlement. Conan Smith thanked Trent and other Salem Township officials as well, noting that it’s his home township and it’s been hard to have the division between the county and township. [Smith, who now lives in Ann Arbor, grew up in Salem Township where his mother, state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, still lives.] He said he appreciated the township’s generosity in bringing this chapter to a close.

Extra Funding for Jail Expansion, Court

County administrator Verna McDaniel had given a presentation to the board at their May 20, 2010 working session, outlining her plans to request an additional $1.35 million related to the jail expansion and new court facility off of Hogback Road. There were two parts to the request: 1) $495,958 for additional costs related to the original project proposal, and 2) $861,000 in costs considered to be outside the scope of the originally approved project.

At the working session, commissioner Barbara Bergman had objected to a fence that was built around part of the parking lot. She also criticized plans to secure the gate with a lock. She raised those same issues on Wednesday, saying that it creates a privileged group of employees – namely, staff of the court who are provided with more secure parking – and results in a shortage of parking spaces for others, including the public. It’s been a policy of the county not to fence things in, she said – otherwise, where does it stop?

Bergman said she had planned to bring a resolution opposing the fenced-in, locked parking area, but she knew it would be defeated. She also had talked to McDaniel, who Bergman said had promised to take a comprehensive look at the parking situation there.

Wes Prater commended Bergman for raising the issue, and said he agreed that they should revisit the decision to enclose parking for court staff.

Kristin Judge asked about bids for the Washtenaw Avenue entrance to the corrections complex. At the May 20 working session, she had questioned why bids for that piece of the project were more than a year old. On Wednesday, Dave Shirley, the county’s operations and maintenance manager, reported that they now had three estimates on construction, ranging from $215,000 to $250,000. There would be additional costs as well, he said, including engineering, permits, landscaping and signs. And there are unknowns that might be uncovered underground as they start the project, he said. McDaniel requested a total of $600,000 to reconfigure that entrance.

Speaking about the overall funding request, Jeff Irwin said he supported it. What hurt the most was less-than-expected interest earnings, he noted – $218,855 less than originally estimated from the bond that funded the project. They also had hoped to pay for the entrance out of savings gained during the project, he said, but those savings didn’t materialize. Nonetheless, it’s an important entrance and will make the facility more accessible, he said.

Ken Schwartz added that it would be hard to fathom a corrections facility having only one entrance, especially if there were an emergency.

Commissioners unanimously approved the request at both the Ways & Means Committee and regular board meeting. McDaniel has indicated that she’ll likely return with additional funding requests related to the project, to be included in the 2012 and 2013 budgets.

Land Bank: Revived in July?

At the board’s May 19, 2010 meeting, commissioner Ronnie Peterson had promised to bring a resolution to the June 2 meeting that would reinstate the county’s land bank, which commissioners had dissolved in March. On Wednesday, Peterson told commissioners he’d subsequently had a breakfast meeting with the board chair, Rolland Sizemore Jr., who had asked him to wait until July 7 before proposing a land bank resolution.

Peterson said that he’d be respectful of that request, but that on July 7 “I’ll be aggressive.” Jessica Ping, who chairs the board’s working sessions, pointed out that the topic of a land bank was on the agenda for the July 8 working session. Peterson said he didn’t have a problem with that – they can discuss the resolution that they’ll pass on July 7. He said he had delayed it until July 7, but would not push it back until August. [In the summer, the board meets only once a month.]

Sizemore said the land bank is a good idea, but there are still some glitches to work out. He encouraged commissioners to attend a seminar on land banks being held next week in Lansing.

Ping proposed shifting the discussion from the July 8 working session to the July 7 meeting of the Ways & Means Committee, which is held immediately prior to the regular board meeting. That way, they could talk through the issues they needed to discuss, then vote on the resolution that same evening. Conan Smith, who chairs Ways & Means, agreed.

Other Actions: Deputy Administrator, Millage, WCHO

The board approved several other items with during Wednesday’s meeting. Those action include:

  • Giving final approval to hire Bill Reynolds as deputy county administrator, effective June 21, 2010. There was no discussion on this item.
  • Authorizing the renewal of an agreement with the University of Michigan to continue the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO).
  • Setting the county millage rate at 5.6767 mills. Only one person – Thomas Partridge – spoke during a public hearing on the millage. He said commissioners should have encouraged their constituents to come to the hearing, and that the millage lacked equity, as all flat-rate millages do. It’s time for tax reform, he said. Several commissioners responded to his comments. Kristin Judge pointed out that there was no increase, and Ken Schwartz noted that the county is bound by the state constitution and by voter-approved millages. “We have to live with that,” he said. Wes Prater said that because property values have declined, most taxpayers will see a decrease in their tax bills – and the county will have less tax revenue.

MSU Extension Program: New Leadership

At a March 4, 2010 working session of the county board, Nancy Thelen – the long-time director of the Washtenaw County Michigan State University Extension – briefed commissioners on restructuring of the statewide program. [Chronicle coverage: "MSU Extension Changes in the Works"] One major change affected her directly, as county director positions are being eliminated, to be replaced by district coordinators that have responsibility for several counties. On Wednesday, Thelen was on hand to introduce the man who’ll be the new district coordinator for the area that covers Washtenaw County: Matt Shane.

Shane, currently extension director for Lenawee County, told commissioners that he actually lives in Washtenaw County, in Manchester. He’ll start his new job in July, with responsibilities for six counties: Washtenaw, Livingston, Jackson, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe. During a transition period, Thelen – who has led the MSU Extension in Washtenaw since 1989 – will continue to act as a liaison to the board, he said.

During comments after Shane’s remarks, several commissioners welcomed him and expressed support for the local MSU Extension. Kristin Judge said they were very proud of the work that the extension did, and Mark Ouimet said he’d been impressed by Thelen’s leadership and her ability to do a lot with limited resources.

Ken Schwartz asked Shane whether there would be substantial programming changes, as part of the restructuring. Shane told him there’d be no major shifts.

Jeff Irwin suggested that Shane watch a video of the March 4 working session, to get an idea about some of the concerns that commissioners had regarding the changes. He said it would be good for Shane to return in the fall and give commissioners an update during one of their working sessions.

Wes Prater wrapped things up by telling Shane that “we’re a friendly group – and we like to see results.”

Other Communications


Scio Township Elections

Commissioner Barbara Bergman highlighted a copy of communications the board had received between the Washtenaw County Road Commission and Scio Township officials. Scio clerk Nancy Hedberg had written to request that the township use space at the road commission’s administration building on Zeeb Road as a polling station for the August primary and November general election. The building is located in Scio Township.

A letter to Hedberg from Steve Puuri, the road commission’s managing director, states that the commission would grant Scio’s request, if the township covers the cost of using the building outside of normal business hours. He estimated the expense would be $2,000.

Responding to his letter, Hedberg wrote that the township had used the road commission’s facilities for several years and was surprised by an “apparent change of heart, whereby one government entity will no longer extend the courtesy of allowing their public building to be used for a civic purpose without charging a cost.” She continued:

A Church can do it; WISD can do it. To function as a polling place, we simply need access to the Lobby and Board Room at 6 a.m. and until polls close when elections inspectors have processed all the data for the day. Frankly, Scio Township continuously lends its meeting rooms for public purposes, including road related purposes, and we even trust the users by giving them a key with the expectation that they will clean up after themselves. And they always do.

Scio Township has never paid for a space to house a polling station and, from a civic point of view, there seem to be plenty of other civic-minded entities that are willing to serve the public that we don’t need to start down that path with the Road Commission, whose attitude is disappointing at best. [.pdf of correspondence]

Bergman said she was on Scio Township’s side, and that elections are civic happenings. The road commission should be ashamed of itself, she said.

Mental Health Awareness

Bergman passed out copies of a DVD produced by the Washtenaw County Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS), aimed at raising awareness and getting support for young people with mental illness. It’s part of a broader statewide mental illness prevention campaign dubbed MP3 – Michigan Prevents Prodromal Progression. Early intervention has a tremendous effect on people’s lives, said Bergman, who’s also a board member of the Washtenaw Community Health Organization. She also distributed a booklet titled “Recognizing and Helping Young People at Risk for Psychosis: A Professional’s Guide,” as well as bookmarks and posters – Bergman encouraged commissioners to distribute the items throughout their districts.

Transparency, Internet Safety

Commissioner Kristin Judge noted that she and commissioner Wes Prater have been working on a transparency team, and plan to bring a resolution to the board in July. She said she met with the county’s department heads earlier that day to go over what they’d be required to do to make their department’s check registers accessible online. [She has also written about this issue on her blog, "All Politics Is Local."]

Judge also noted that the Internet safety task force she and sheriff Jerry Clayton have organized now has roughly 40 people involved at the local, state and federal levels, and is far exceeding her expectations. The group is planning a formal kick-off in early October, which also marks National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Judge said she’ll be bringing a resolution about the initiative to the board in the future.

Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge spoke during three of the four opportunities for public commentary, plus the public hearing on the millage. He noted that he is a Democratic candidate in the race for the 18th District state senate seat, and urged commissioners to address the vital needs of the community, including affordable housing, countywide transportation, lifetime education and access to health care. He advocated for better cooperation with neighboring counties. Saying that this year’s elections were vital, Partridge said the state legislature and county commission need forward-looking Democrats in those positions, not “can’t-do Republicans.” He said the state constitution is being interpreted in a right-wing manner, and if it needs to be revised, now’s the time to do it.

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Kristin Judge, Jeff Irwin, Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith (absent during the Ways & Means Committee meeting, but present during the regular board meeting)

Next board meeting: The next regular meeting is Wednesday, July 7, 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.

Jessica Ping and her son Sullivan

Commissioner Jessica Ping's son, Sullivan, attended Wednesday's board meeting. He did not cast any votes.