Washtenaw County Board: Districts 8, 9 & 11

Candidates for three contested Ann Arbor districts face off

On the 11-member Washtenaw County board of commissioners, four districts represent different areas in the city of Ann Arbor. In the Nov. 2, 2010 election, one of those seats – held by incumbent Democrat Conan Smith of District 10 – is uncontested.

Yousef Rabhi, Joe Baublis, Tim Nagae

Democrat Yousef Rabhi, left, and Republican Joe Baublis, seated, await the start of the Sept. 27, 2010 League of Women Voters forum. CTN producer Tim Nagae, right, hooks up a microphone on the set. (Photos by the writer.)

On Sept. 27, the League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates in the other three Ann Arbor districts – 8, 9 and 11. Four of the six candidates participated: Incumbent Democrat Leah Gunn of District 9; Republican Melinda Day, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Barbara Bergman in District 8; Democrat Yousef Rabhi and Republican Joe Baublis, who are vying for the District 11 seat vacated by Jeff Irwin. Bergman had a scheduling conflict and didn’t participate. Republican Mark Tipping, who’s running against Gunn in District 9, did not respond to the League’s invitation.

The forum took place at Community Television Network studios and is available online through CTN’s video-on-demand service.

The hour-long event, bookended by the music of John Philip Sousa’s El Capitan, was moderated by Nancy Schewe. Questions covered a broad range of topics related to county government, including how to address upcoming budget shortfalls and the role of county government in providing police services. This report presents candidate remarks in the order that candidates responded.

Opening Statements

Candidates were given one minute to make an opening statement.

Day’s Opening Statement

Noting that she is a University of Michigan Ph.D. student in life sciences, Melinda Day said that “in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be here right now.” There’s an epidemic of unemployment among young people, she said – people her age. They’re accumulating large debts for degrees that are quickly losing their value. There are no jobs available, she said, and their future success has been diminished. This is what has motivated her to move beyond the lab and run for county commissioner. We can’t continue down a road of fiscal irresponsibility, she said. The county is facing revenue shortfalls over the next several years, and the board needs new people to work diligently to balance the budget. She said she’ll work hard to have a county government that’s efficient and that keeps taxes down.

Gunn’s Opening Statement

Leah Gunn began by thanking the League for hosting the forum. She noted that the county has always had a balanced budget– it’s the law. Last year, they closed a $30 million gap by a unanimous vote of the board, she said. It’s difficult to make the decisions they need to make, but she said she’s very proud to be part of that process. It takes working together, both parties, to do what they need to do, Gunn said, adding that she has the experience and core values of the community to make the right decisions.

Baublis’ Opening Statement

Joe Baublis said he was here to encourage viewers to vote for him. He said he has actual experience dealing with federal, state, county and local bureaucracy. He has superior credentials, more education, and more licenses. He said he brings alternatives to the status quo. As an example, he said his priority is to protect the taxpayers – that priority does not even exist on the current board’s list. He said it means that if you’re a homeowner, or rent a home, or own a business in Washtenaw County, you get protection from him. Without him, he said, these taxpayers are not a priority. “I will make your concerns, my concerns.”

Rabhi’s Opening Statement

Yousef Rabhi thanked the League, saying this was an important community forum and that it’s important to inform the voters about the different levels of government. He said he’s running because he believes that human services are the core of what the county provides, and they need to be protected. The county is seeing a decline in revenue because of the state and local economy, and it’s hard to balance the budget while keeping human services a priority. The board has been doing a pretty good job of that, and he intends to continue that strong tradition. He also said he’s running to forge a sustainable future for the county. They need to look for ways to make their carbon footprint lower, and to find ways to make the economy resilient. He said he’s the best candidate because he’s bringing “positivism and energy that can’t be beat.”

Police Services and the Sheriff’s Department

Question: Ypsilanti Township is negotiating for Ypsilanti to provide police services, instead of the Washtenaw sheriff’s department. Is it the role of the county government to provide patrols to the townships? If Ypsilanti can provide patrols at a lower cost, should the county adjust the amount it is charging the townships, in order to keep the contract?

Leah Gunn

Leah Gunn: incumbent Democrat, District 9

Gunn on Police Services

There are two kinds of county services, Gunn noted – mandated and non-mandated. Ypsilanti Township sued the county and the county spent millions of dollars in legal fees over the issues, she said. The Michigan Supreme Court, the appeals court and the circuit court have all ruled that sheriff patrols are a non-mandated service, Gunn said. The county is not obligated to pay for police services in any township. Residents in the city of Ann Arbor are paying twice, she said: For their own police department, and to subsidize township contracts with the sheriff. If Ypsilanti Township can get cheaper services from Ypsilanti, Gunn concluded, “I say, go for it, because it will mean that we do not have to pay that service.”

Rabhi on Police Services

There are multiple takes on what’s going on with police services, Rabhi said. Everyone should have to pay their fair share to have the sheriff’s patrols in their community, he said. Whether everyone is paying their fair share now is open to debate, he said. He’s seen the numbers, and they aren’t as comprehensive as he’d like to see. More research needs to be done. Regarding Ypsilanti Township and Ypsilanti working together, Rabhi said he’s an advocate for governmental efficiency and looking at ways to save money. If it in fact saves money for the township, that’s what they should be doing, he said.

Baublis on Police Services

Baublis said that one of the things he regretted was the fact that Ypsilanti Township felt it was necessary to sue the county. “This is crazy for our governments to be suing each other,” he said. Regardless of the outcome in the state Supreme Court, let’s look at the costs in the townships and the county just for having the lawsuit, he said. Everyone would have been better off settling the lawsuit, and the savings would have probably paid for a considerable amount of the sheriff’s duties now, he said. His advice would have been to settle the lawsuit as soon as possible, and get on with the business of protecting the people.

Day on Police Services

Day said she’s a firm believer in public safety. It’s the right of voters and taxpayers in each locality to decide who is best to provide that service, she said. Further, taxpayers should only be paying the price for what it costs to provide those services, she said, and not pay any kind of inflated amount that the board decides on. So if Ypsilanti can provide the services to Ypsilanti Township at a lower cost, Day said she’s all for that – let them make that decision.

Washtenaw Avenue Corridor

Question: The county is working with seven other governmental agencies to develop a plan for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, to improve its appearance and function. Would you approve a corridor improvement authority, that would oversee development from East Stadium Boulevard to the Ypsilanti water tower? If so, should the authority have the ability to capture future tax increases that result from development of that corridor?

Joe Baublis

Joe Baublis: Republican candidate, District 11

Baublis on Washtenaw Avenue

This would be a public benefit, Baublis said, but the people affected would be the businesses that are trying to operate along that corridor. Those people are suffering because so much disorganized work is occurring. So on the one hand, it would be good to coordinate improvement efforts, he said, but that should be done with significant input from the businesses there. He said he’d want to see input from businesses to supplement whatever the authority comes up with.

Rabhi on Washtenaw Avenue

Rabhi said he’s a firm believer that government should engage people as much as possible in the process of making their communities a better place. If an authority is formed, they should ask residents and businesses for input, he said. It’s also good to think on a broader scale, he added – a corridor seems somewhat limiting, but it’s a good start. They need to look more comprehensively at the systems at work in their urban areas. In addition, if an authority is formed, it should look not only at how to make transportation more efficient, but also more environmentally friendly. Run-off systems need to be in place to prevent pollutants from running into our waterways, he said. We need to encourage sustainable cities, and this is one way to do it.

Day on Washtenaw Avenue

Day said she didn’t believe an authority is needed for this. There’s already plenty of business along the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, she said. Yes, some firms are going out of business there – one famous example is the Hollywood video store, she said. But private citizens are more than capable of developing that corridor, she said. If there comes a time when they need to look at traffic flow and transportation there, then they should do it. But right now, considering the budget shortfalls they’re facing, she said this is an example of government inefficiency.

Gunn on Washtenaw Avenue

It’s worth talking about, Gunn said. It doesn’t have anything to do with government inefficiency, she said. She said she agreed with Baublis and Rabhi – getting input from businesses and residents is important. That is something that government can help do, she said. It’s not a huge number of local entities to coordinate. They need to see what the people in that area think, and if there’s no interest, they should back off. But if people there are interested, she said, then government should assist them in making a plan that will benefit everybody.

Consolidation of Services

Question: In an effort to save money, several school districts are consolidating services, such as substitute teacher placement and transportation, through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Do you see any area where services provided by local governments could be consolidated through the county?

Melinda Day

Melinda Day: Republican candidate, District 8

Day on Consolidation of Services

Yes, Day said, there are areas where they can make things more efficient and consolidate services. If you look at the county itself, she said, there are several departments that are funded separately and that could be pushed together into one single budget. She gave the example of police services, and said the county and city of Ann Arbor could form a combined call center. A supply store used by multiple government entities is another example, she said. There are many areas where local governments could work together, she said, to spread the cost over several governmental entities.

Gunn on Consolidation of Services

Washtenaw County is already doing that, Gunn said. She pointed out that there is a combined dispatch for the sheriff and city of Ann Arbor, located in Ann Arbor. There’s also a combined data center for information technology (IT) services. The county has also taken over the labor negotiations and human resources for the county road commission, she said, because it’s cheaper and more efficient for them to contract with the county for those services. Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti also contract with the county for IT services, she noted. There’s a lot of consolidation going on, she said, and they are working toward more.

Rabhi on Consolidation of Services

Rabhi said that during his primary campaign, he promoted three ways to save money, and the No. 1 way was to work with other units of government. The county can and does play an essential role in uniting those local units of government, he said. Referring to the examples cited in the question with the school districts, he said he’s gotten feedback that if not treated the right way, consolidation can be bad. It can often be used as a union-busting strategy, he noted. “We don’t want to consolidate services and fire a bunch of people,” he said. There are ways to consolidate services without harming people in the community, he concluded.

Baublis on Consolidation of Services

Regretfully, Baublis said, there will be more consolidation in future years. If you look at the country, state and county, we’re running out of money, he said. Some parts of the government have led people to believe that they can rely on the government, he said. Now, the reverse is needed – we need to get people to rely on themselves, their own communities and families. How do we do that, and where do we make cuts? First, remember that the government is spending the people’s money, not its own money, he said. And it’s wasting money. Baublis said that he’s looked at minutes from meetings of the county board and sees that they’ve been selling bonds to pay off debt. Let’s look at saving the people’s money as a prelude to consolidation, he said, and get the people prepared for less government.

Funding for Human Services

Question: The continuing recession is hard on everyone, especially on the unemployed and underemployed. Is the county doing an adequate job of meeting the human needs of its citizens, in the areas of housing, health – both mental and physical – food and transportation? If not, what more should be done?

Gunn on Funding for Human Services

The county is trying its best, Gunn said, but it’s very difficult for county government because these areas are non-mandated services. The county allocates about $1 million annually to human services, she said. They’ve been having meetings for integrated funding of human services, meeting with the city of Ann Arbor, the Urban County, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and United Way of Washtenaw County. They’re looking at consolidating funding for nonprofits, looking at how to make them accountable and to make sure that services are delivered. She said she’s been very committed to this stated that community consolidation will work wonders. However, the county doesn’t have enough resources – “and we never will,” she said. “We have to look out for each other.”

Baublis on Funding for Human Services

Baublis said he recently read a report in the Federal Reserve Review indicating that the government isn’t as efficient at providing services as private industry. Housing could be a private industry, he said – why is the government involved? What has the government done nationwide to the housing industry? he asked. The government caused the housing collapse, he said, because they were promoting political agendas. We should leave housing and other private industries to the private sector, he said. We should focus the government’s efforts on what the government must do. These would be essential services, he said, and housing is not one of them. There are people in Ann Arbor living in tents, he noted, because there’s not enough room at the Delonis Center, the local homeless shelter. “That’s something that private business could fix.”

Rabhi on Funding for Human Services

The beauty of government is that it’s where people come together and take charge of their own destiny, Rabhi said. Funding for human services is an example of that, he said. We can always do more to take care of those in need, and we need to do more. “In no world do private companies take care of homeless people,” he said. That doesn’t fit in to the free market system. That’s when governments step in, he said, to take care of people who need help. We need to provide enough resources to make sure that people aren’t going hungry and they aren’t without houses. We need to make sure the people in this community are well-cared-for, he said. “We can make our community an attractive place for businesses to invest in if we invest in our people.”

Day on Funding for Human Services

Government actually gets in the way of helping people succeed, Day said. The best thing to do for underemployed or unemployed people is to find them a job. That’s what people are completely forgetting about, she said. The question shouldn’t be “What services can we provide while these people are unemployed?” We should ask how to make these people productive members of the community, so that they’ll in turn give back tax revenue through their employment. They need to look at how to bring businesses into the county. What red tape is involved when someone wants to open up shop? What gets in the way? Are there issues with zoning laws or building codes? How can we make it easier for employers to hire people in the county? she asked. That way, they wouldn’t need to worry so much about providing services to the unemployed. “And then charity, and the gracious heart of the American citizen would be more than capable of taking care of those who are less fortunate.”

Increasing County Revenues

Question: County tax revenues continue to fall. Do you see any way to increase revenues?

Yousef Rabhi

Yousef Rabhi: Democratic candidate, District 11

Rabhi on Increasing County Revenues

Step one, Rabhi said, is to look for efficiencies and ways to continue to save money. Consolidation of services is one way to do that. In addition, it’s important to find efficiencies in electrical usage, water usage and fuel usage, he said. That’s not only a sustainability improvement, it’s a financial improvement. There are other ways to save money, he said. For example, instead of putting someone in jail, the sheriff can put them into a community work program. The way to increase taxes would be to put it to a vote, but people aren’t likely to support a tax increase in the current state of the economy, he said. That’s the conundrum – people don’t want to raise taxes, but the county needs tax revenue to provide services that an increasing number of people need.

Baublis on Increasing County Revenues

One of the reasons revenues are down is because businesses are fleeing from our county, Baublis said. Property values are down – he said he knows this because he’s a real estate broker and a licensed appraiser. What can the government do about that? he asked. Nothing – it’s up to the people. How can we get people to invest in a county that’s going broke? he asked. Why would a business want to come here, knowing it will be on the hook to pay taxes for services that are inefficient? We need to scale back government taxes, he said, and get the government on a balanced budget. Then maybe we can entice businesses with employment to come back to the county.

Day on Increasing County Revenues

If you put people to work, they can produce more and contribute by buying a house and paying property taxes, Day said. She said she’d like to reexamine the tax sources for the county. One revenue issue is tied to the fact that there are a lot of tax-related foreclosures, she said. When you buy a house and pay off your mortgage, you should actually own the property, she said – you shouldn’t be paying rent to the county, in the form of taxes. That’s basically what our tax system is, she said. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’re evicted. But in general, the county needs to bring in more businesses, she said, change the zoning laws and the building codes so that it will be easier to open a business in the county and get more people employed.

Gunn on Increasing County Revenues

State law requires the county to levy property taxes, Gunn said – there’s no choice. If they want that changed, they have to go through the state legislature, she noted. “And at this point in time, I would say good luck.” As far as creating work, the county has a workforce development department that’s federally funded, she said. The county also runs the local Michigan Works office, which is the state’s job training program. The problem is there are not enough jobs available. The automakers and auto suppliers operating in this county went belly up, she said. It’s the worst economy they’ve seen since the Great Depression, she said, and the county government is doing the best it can to serve the people.

What County Services to Save or Cut

Question: Which of the county services would you go to the mat to protect, and which ones would you suggest phasing out?

Day on What County Services to Save or Cut

Day said she’s a big supporter of public safety. A bad habit of local government is that budgets get balanced on the backs of public safety officers, she said. They’re the people keeping us safe, and they should be a priority. She’d go to the mat for the sheriff’s department and anyone related to public safety. Regarding things to let go, she said she’d like to examine the nonprofits that the county is funding. There are a lot of nonprofits, like Planned Parenthood, that are controversial, she said. Since she wants to represent everyone, she said, that’s something that could be let go.

Gunn on What County Services to Save or Cut

Gunn said she’d go to the mat for human services, including the county’s prenatal grant to Planned Parenthood. It funds prenatal care for low-income women who can’t get it elsewhere, she said, and resulted in over 1,000 healthy babies. The nonprofits deliver services very efficiently, she said. She said she wanted to emphasize again that police services provided under contract with the sheriff’s department are not mandated, “and we paid a great deal in legal fees to find that out.” They need to find a different way for townships to police themselves, she said, because people in the city shouldn’t have to pay twice.

Baublis on What County Services to Save or Cut

Baublis said he was a little disappointed with the assessors’ offices and equalization department. In his work as a real estate broker and appraiser, he said, he’s finding that across the county they’re over-assessing properties. “I think they’re ripping off people who own property,” he said. We’re not getting justice out of the state law, and the assessors aren’t helping the people. Regarding cuts, Baublis said he’d start with top-level salaries – for example, judges, assessors, and the drain commissioner. Let’s start cutting there, he said, rather than at the lower levels.

Rabhi on What County Services to Save or Cut

Rabhi said he’d go to the mat for a lot of services, especially for mental health care and the county’s health plan. Those are important programs to a lot of people, and there are long waiting lists. When it comes to public safety, he said, it’s the responsibility of public officials to make sure everyone has the safety they need. People need to have police patrols in their neighborhoods, if that’s what they want. He said they should work toward making the entire county run more efficiently, so that they could offer most of the services they offer now. He added that he’d also go to the mat for the drain commissioner [Janis Bobrin], because she’s done a lot of work to make the county run more sustainably, especially regarding water issues.

Transportation Needs

Question: What are the county’s most pressing transportation needs, and how would you address them?

Gunn on Transportation Needs

Gunn began by saying she wanted to correct some things, referring to statements made by other candidates. Judges’ salaries are set by the state, she said. And in the last budget round, every county employee got a pay cut by taking eight furlough days, she said, and non-union workers now pay part of their healthcare costs. We have cut salaries, she said.

Regarding transportation, Gunn noted that the transportation authority is the AATA [Ann Arbor Transportation Authority], which operates the bus system. She’d like to see the Fuller Road Station built, because she thinks the north/south rail and east/west rail projects will happen. We need help getting workers into Ann Arbor – 50,000 people drive into the city every day, she said. She said she’s been working with the AATA in helping design the new Blake Transit Center, and working with the board to decide how they can best provide transit. Most immediately, they need an express bus from Ypsilanti to the University of Michigan medical center, she said.

Rabhi on Transportation Needs

Transportation is an issue of sustainability and social justice, Rabhi said. We need to ensure that everyone has access to all locations in the community. Beyond that, we need to make sure that we’re connected to the communities around us, including Detroit. He said he wants to be able to go to Detroit without driving his car, because he wants to spend money there, and he wants people from Detroit to come and spend their money here. Tourism is important to this community and to the state as a whole, and transportation is part of that. There are too many people driving and too few people taking buses, trains and biking. Transportation is also crucial for employment – people need to be able to get to their jobs, he said.

Day on Transportation Needs

The big thing now is the commuter rail project, Day said, adding that it isn’t sustainable. Even New York City can’t sustain its subway system, she said – the ticket sales don’t support the cost of running it. Locally, we don’t have the population numbers to sustain a rail system between here and Detroit, she said. It would be a money pit. The city of Ann Arbor does have a good bus system, she said – as a student at UM, she enjoys it quite a bit. It’s important to look at ways to expand that service that will still be sustainable, in terms of ticket sales.

Baublis on Transportation Needs

Baublis said he’d like to withdraw his earlier comment about reducing salaries, but he wanted to make it clear that “everybody on the totem pole is invited to the dinner party,” and we shouldn’t make some people more important just because of their elite status. As for state mandates on the county, he said, the county should begin to think of some new alternatives, such as independence. Maybe a few actions of independence might be a good way for the state to get the message that we need to take care of ourselves, “and if the state’s not helping us do that, we may have to take matters into our own hands.” Regarding transportation, Baublis said he loved biking and other means of transportation, but the fact is that the government isn’t an efficient mechanism for providing transportation. Private industry would do a better job, he said, and we should look at that as an option.

Economic Development

Question: What would you do as a county commissioner to bring more businesses to this area?

Baublis on Economic Development

It’s hard for a business to want to invest here, in light of the county’s projected debt, Baublis said. Take Pfizer, he said, as an example. He said he chatted with some Pfizer executives, who told him that the company was going to Ireland because taxes are lower. They save billions and billions of dollars by leaving, he said, and look what happened to our community. We lost jobs, the housing market went down and we lost tax revenue from all the employees. Let’s be more encouraging of the large and small businesses, he said. Having a county debt and a city debt isn’t going to help. Having payroll taxes and income taxes – he noted that the city of Ann Arbor has considered an income tax – won’t help either. Encouraging business means having fewer regulations, lower taxes and a balanced budget, he concluded.

Rabhi on Economic Development

We need to start thinking about our local economy before thinking about the global economy that we’re a part of, he said. We need to think about how to make sure local businesses are succeeding, and the best way to do that is to invest in them – to invest in businesses that invest in us. That’s a top priority for him, Rabhi said. Secondly, businesses are attracted by tax incentives, he said, but they’re also attracted by liveable communities. They know that liveable communities are where happy employees live. Creating liveable communities means investing in amenities like parks and programs that make your community a good place to live, he said.

Day on Economic Development

Noting that she’d already touched on this issue a couple of times, Day said they could look at things the county could do quickly, like looking at zoning regulations, building codes and other red tape – the amount of bureaucracy you have to go through to open a business here. But we also need to look at the overall state economy as well, she said. There’s only so much that Washtenaw County can do to bring business from other parts of Michigan, but that won’t help if we keep driving companies to southern states, like Texas or Florida. We need to put pressure on the state government to change the income tax, the business tax and labor laws. All these things play a role in economic development, she said.

Gunn on Economic Development

Gunn said the county can’t do anything in terms of building codes or zoning, because the county has absolutely no jurisdiction over those particular laws. We can encourage, talk and negotiate, she said, but those are the sole purview of townships and cities. Michigan has “home rule,” she explained, which gives that authority to townships and cities. The county invests in economic development by investing in Ann Arbor SPARK, Gunn said, and the Eastern Leaders Group, as well as the county department of energy and economic development. “We are there – we are helping,” she said.

Challenges and Strengths

Question: What are the primary challenges that the county will face in the next two years, and what strengths would you bring to solve those problems?

Day on Challenges and Strengths

The revenue shortfalls are the biggest challenge, Day said, and they’re expected to last several years. A big part of it is related to union contracts, she said – employees account for a large percentage of the budget. They can’t do anything about downsizing government without first looking at those union contracts. Day said she has the fortitude to stand strong on behalf of the county’s taxpayers when it comes to negotiating with union bosses. She said she’s done it with the graduate employees organization at UM, and she’s more than happy to do it for the county.

Gunn on Challenges and Strengths

Day is absolutely right, Gunn said – the county faces tremendous revenue shortfalls next year and in 2012 and 2013. The county is not getting any revenue sharing from the state, she said, so they need to look at themselves. Union contracts are part of that, and they can ask employees to do more. But there comes a time when they’ll need to say that there are programs they can’t do anymore, she said. Gunn said that she has the experience and core values that reflect the community, so that she can say, “This is the right decision.” It’s really tough, she said, but someone has to do it, and she’s there and willing to do it.

Rabhi on Challenges and Strengths

There are two main challenges, Rabhi said: the budget, and sustainability. People have already mentioned the budget, he noted. Regarding sustainability, he said we need to start thinking about how to become independent of fossil fuels in this community. We need to become self-sufficient, he said. We need to grow our own food, and get around our community without depending on fossil fuel. Turning back to the budget, Rabhi said we need to start making priorities, and thinking about what it is that we need to be doing. We won’t do ourselves any favors by getting rid of our union workers, he said. Those are jobs in our community, he noted, and tax dollars. They are people who are working hard to make our community a better place. That’s not a way to address the budget issue.

Baublis on Challenges and Strengths

The budget is a problem, Baublis said, but perhaps a more significant challenge is the spirit of Ann Arbor. It’s spoiled by divisive rhetoric and inflammatory comments, he said. Day did not say that she wanted to get rid of all the unions, he said. There will always be a place for the unions at the table, he said: “We did not say that the unions will be kicked out.” However, he added, the union and salaried employees must face the same cutbacks that the residents and taxpayers are facing. If it’s fair and equal across the board, he said, we can learn to live together.

Closing Statements

Each candidate had two minutes for final remarks.

Rabhi’s Closing Statement

Rabhi again thanked the League of Women Voters for hosting and CTN viewers for watching. He said he was running for county commissioner to protect human services, to work toward forging a sustainable future for our community, and to think about how we can become more economically resilient. Also, he wanted to look out for the people in our community and address social equity issues. He said he was born in Ypsilanti and grew up in Ann Arbor. “This is my home,” he said.

Rahbi said he always admired the spirit in this community to be resilient, and he believes we can get past this difficult time to a place where we don’t have to worry about the budget, where we can think about things to add to what the county does. We need to be looking at how to become more self-sufficient, how we can reduce our carbon footprint and grow our own food. “When you go to the polls in November, I want you to think about that,” he said. Rabhi encouraged voters to do their research, check out both his website as well as his opponent’s website, and “make a good decision on Nov. 2.”

Baublis’ Closing Statement

Baublis began by thanking Rahbi for his comments, saying they were very generous. He said he’s been a resident of the county for nearly 50 years, and when he heard that the county had a nearly $34 million deficit and additional deficits were projected for the coming years, he became concerned about the future of the county. As he reviewed the minutes from meetings of the board of commissioners, he became even more concerned. In light of the city, state and federal government deficits, he said, and the wholesale flight of business out of our county, business as usual in Washtenaw County isn’t sustainable. “It’s got to change,” he said.

The city, state and county governments are broke and can’t pay for the services they’ve promised to the people, and they can’t pay for the benefits they’ve promised themselves. But each level of government has power, he said, and they will use that power to come after all of us for taxes. “Who is going to protect you?” he asked. “I will.” If voters want a man at one level of government, whose priority is to protect taxpayers, they should vote for him. He noted that he has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and is licensed as an appraiser, a broker and a contractor. He said he’s also been to every corner of every city and township in this county, and he has a long track record of battling government bureaucracy. If you vote for him, Baublis said, “I will make your concerns, my concerns.”

Gunn’s Closing Statement

Gunn thanked the League of Women Voters for holding the forum. She said that one thing hadn’t yet been mentioned, and that was environmental protection. The county’s Natural Areas Preservation Program has a millage that’s up for renewal this year, and she urged viewers to vote yes for Proposal A. The millage has allowed the county to preserve over 1,300 acres of beautiful, natural areas, she said, and it adds tremendously to the quality of life here.

In closing, Gunn said her goal is to continue what she’s been doing – to preserve services, and maintain long-term fiscal stability.

Day’s Closing Statement

Day also thanked the League for holding the forum. She said the election is about two choices: Continue the status quo and elect the same people who have allowed the county to slip into an economic malaise, or choose to change things for the better by voting in new people on the board of commissioners. We have large economic shortfalls due to the business flight from the county, she said. Highly educated young adults are fleeing the county in droves because they can’t find jobs. The current situation cannot continue as is, she said.

“I am not a career politician,” Day said. “I’m a scientist who has become concerned by the clear lack of common sense shown in the running of our government.” The government has promised us a lot of things, she said, and it’s never been more clear that they can’t deliver on all those promises. We need people who understand this simple fact, and who are willing to do the hard work to get us back on a sustainable path, she said. We need to find ways to stretch our tax dollars, and make the government more efficient to better meet our responsibilities. She said she promised to lead by example – if elected, she would take a cut in the reimbursement that county commissioners receive. As a scientist, she said she has the skills to meet the goal of fiscal responsibility. She promised to look at all facets of an issue, delve into underlying causes and work to implement solutions. She urged viewers to vote for her and usher in a new day for Washtenaw County.


  1. By John Dory
    October 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm | permalink

    I support Melinda Day.

    She seemed better informed and a more intelligent candidate than Barbara Bergman.

    Bergman has been in office too long. Fresh leadership is needed.

  2. By Jack F
    October 11, 2010 at 8:12 am | permalink

    “Rahbi said he always admired the spirit in this community to be resilient, and he believes we can get past this difficult time to a place where we don’t have to worry about the budget, where we can think about things to add to what the county does. We need to be looking at how to become more self-sufficient, how we can reduce our carbon footprint and grow our own food.”

    ADD to what the county does once we’re back to happy days are here again with tax collections? HE might not want to worry about budgets but every single taxpayer in this County worries over every penny of their personal budgets. For Mr. Rahbi to salivate over pulling in more money is appalling. Yeah, any more taxes and we all might be forced into growing our own food and living in tents.


  3. By Jack F
    October 11, 2010 at 8:13 am | permalink

    Leah Gunn seems to be one of the responsible adults in the room, much as it pains me to say it. Lol.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    October 11, 2010 at 9:15 am | permalink

    I hope we’re not going to have to read lots of generic political endorsements (like #1 above) in these comments from now until election day. There should at least be with some substantive connection to the article.

  5. October 11, 2010 at 10:11 am | permalink

    Leah, I appreciate you participating in this forum. Your experience helped make it very informative. I also read your responses to the annarbor.com candidate survey, and I appreciate your skepticism of SEMCOG’s value to the county. Do you use a similarly skeptical eye on SPARK and the Eastern Leaders Group?

    Also, could you expand on your thinking on what constitutes the “right decision”? What’s the general basis, and are you open to later learning that a different decision might be better?

    Thanks. As a new District 9 resident I’m looking forward to voting for you in November.

  6. By Yousef Rabhi
    October 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm | permalink

    @Jack F

    The nuance of this issue is that the current County revenue shortfall is not a function of higher or lower taxes. Rather it is a matter of declining property values and elevated foreclosure rates. My statement was that our community resilience (along with good economic policy and fiscal responsibility) can help us through this economic crisis to a time when the economy is better and the County’s budget is not declining.

    I have said very firmly that this is not the time to be thinking about what more the county can do, but rather how what it does can be done more effectively. BUT, in an optimistic future where the budget will be stable and growing again (not due to a tax increase but due to increased property value and declining foreclosure rates), we should begin to bring back programs that folks in the community need. Again, this does not require a tax increase.

    Thank you for voicing your concern about my statement. I hope that you will consider contacting me so that we can discuss your concerns/ideas further. Contact info at voterabhi.com

    Yousef Rabhi

  7. By Leah Gunn
    October 17, 2010 at 8:31 pm | permalink

    @Steve Bean – the “right” decision is one that I have mulled over considering the services needed and the resources we have at the county to provide those servics. How do you choose between cultural arts and hunger, for instance? For me, that is a no brainer. But other decisions, including the level of support for various programs (or none at all) are what drive my thinking.

    I am always open to alternative ways of doing things, keeping in mind that there are certain core values that are important to me, in particular trying to serve those people who are in need, particularly children.

    As to your specific questions – I believe that Ann Arbor SPARK is definitely a worthwhile investment, as it has brought many businesses and employment opportunities to the county, and has successfully leveraged millions of dollars into Washtenaw County. The Eastern Leaders Group is valuable in that it supports SPARK East, but I want to re-evaluate it for 2012 and beyond.

    It’s not easy. I appreciate your expression of support.