Washtenaw Board Debates Budget Issues

Split vote leaves per diem, travel expenses in place

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Budget-related issues drove much of the discussion during Wednesday’s board meeting, as county commissioners wrangled over a resolution proposed by Leah Gunn to eliminate per diem, travel and mileage payments to commissioners.

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team, which competed in Washington D.C. this summer at the Street Soccer USA Cup. David Altherr, far left, also was picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil in September. They were on hand to promote a Dec. 10-11 fundraiser. (Photos by the writer.)

At some points during the debate there was a fair amount of confusion. A vote to eliminate per diem payments initially passed, but commissioner Ronnie Peterson then indicated that he’d intended to vote the opposite way. Because he’d voted on the prevailing side, parliamentary rules allowed him to bring the issue back for another vote – he switched his vote to no, and the resolution failed to pass. Ultimately, none of the proposed cuts won enough support to enact.

A resolution to set the cost of a police services unit (PSU) received little discussion – aside from some public commentary from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and a response by commissioner Jeff Irwin. A PSU is the term used for a sheriff’s deputy who is hired on a contract basis to serve local townships and other municipalities. The board gave initial approval to set the cost at $176,108 and is expected to take a final vote on the issue at their Dec. 1 meeting. They’ll wait until next year to tackle the more contentious question of how much the county will charge contracting municipalities per PSU – an amount that will likely be lower, offset by a county general fund contribution.

In other budget-related matters, a public hearing on revisions to the 2011 budget drew only three speakers – including two representatives from local nonprofits who urged commissioners to consider the impact of any cuts they might contemplate for human services. The board also authorized soliciting bids for an internal audit, and discussed holding a special meeting in December to start setting priorities for upcoming budget discussions.

As he had during the Nov. 8 administrative briefing, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed frustration with the management of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and said he wants the board to address that issue. There’s a vacancy on the road commission board, a group that’s appointed by the county board and that has oversight for the road commission operations. Other county commissioners said they’d like to hold public interviews for the job – seven people have applied.

Also on Wednesday, members of the county’s Street Soccer team, the SSPORT, came to the meeting to ask commissioners to participate in the 24-hour Soccerthon, a fundraiser to be held at WideWorld Sports Center starting on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. The team is part of the county’s homeless project outreach team (PORT), which provides mental health and other support services to the local homeless population. The players had participated in the third annual Street Soccer USA Cup this summer in Washington D.C., and one of the players, David Altherr, had been picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September.

During Wednesday’s meeting the board also passed a resolution declaring Nov. 14-20, 2010 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, chair of the nonprofit Washtenaw Housing Alliance, was on hand and told the board to expect a re-energized effort related to the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. He announced that the WHA has hired a new executive director to lead that effort – Julie Steiner, who has served as executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House.

Police Services Cost

The police services steering committee (PSSC), appointed by the county board, has been working for more than a year to determine the true cost of putting a sheriff’s deputy on patrol. Commissioners had received a presentation on that issue at their Nov. 4 working session, when sheriff Jerry Clayton reviewed the PSSC proposal, which recommended setting the cost of a police services unit (PSU) at $176,108. A PSU is the term used for a sheriff’s deputy who is hired on a contract basis to serve local townships and other municipalities. The amount includes direct costs like salary and fringe benefits, as well as indirect costs and overhead. [.pdf of chart with details of itemized costs Additional backup documentation: cost analysis formulas; overview of fringe benefit rates; overview of cost allocation plan (CAP)]

A discussion at that Nov. 4 working session revealed a divergence of perspectives – a split that emerged again during a discussion at the board’s Nov. 8 administrative briefing. During the working session, Clayton had told commissioners it’s important to agree on the cost of delivering police services, before moving on to the question of price – or what the county will charge for that service, presumably a lower amount. He also outlined several policy issues that the board needs to address, including what metrics they’ll use to determine future adjustments in cost and price. Current contracts for the 74 deputies paid for by local municipalities expire at the end of 2011.

Police Services Cost: Public Commentary

At the Nov. 17 meeting, Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran spoke during public commentary, echoing some of the comments he’d made at the Nov. 4 working session. He said he wanted to reiterate that the PSSC subcommittee – the group that had done most of the research in determining the cost recommendation – had worked very hard to keep out political differences and other disagreements that had historically been part of these discussions. He believed they’d done a very fair job of that. Moran said he wanted to respond to some comments that commissioners Jeff Irwin and Barbara Bergman had made at the working session.

Moran objected to what he characterized as Irwin’s desire to include the county’s 12 general fund deputies – deputies who are paid for out of the general fund, not from contracts with other jurisdictions – into the cost calculation. Likewise, Moran didn’t think the county’s cost allocation plan (CAP) should be added in, either. The CAP is an amount charged to each department for things like the county attorney and administration. Not a single dollar of that would change if you had 20 contract deputies or none, he said. Moran said there was the sense among committee members that the CAP had been allocated unfairly, in regards to the sheriff’s department, but that was an issue they’d decided to leave until another day.

Police Services Cost: Commissioner Response

Irwin responded to Moran’s comments, saying he agreed that the committee had done good work, and that it was a good jumping off point for discussions. Regarding CAP for the sheriff’s department, he said his recollection was that the county paid most of those costs, not the contracting jurisdictions. He said he didn’t think the 12 general fund deputies should be included in the cost formula either, but that it should be indicated as part of the county’s overhead for the sheriff’s department.

Finally, Irwin noted that one of the points he’d made most strenuously at the working session was something that Moran didn’t address: The cost of the county’s detective bureau. The work of the detectives is related to the contract deputies, he said – using an incremental cost model, the more contract deputies you have, the more detectives you’ll need to handle the cases generated by those deputies. He said it’s an indirect cost that should be reflected in the recommendation, but isn’t.

Police Services Cost: Commissioner Deliberations

There was little discussion on this item. Commissioner Leah Gunn suggested a friendly amendment, adding in a reference to the total cost of $176,108 per police services unit (PSU). The original resolution mentioned the cost of $168,584 per deputy, plus $7,524 in overhead.

Outcome: The board gave initial approval to a resolution that sets the cost of a police services unit (PSU) at $176,108. The board is expected to take a final vote on the cost issue at its Dec. 1 meeting. The board still needs to decide how much the county will charge contracting municipalities per PSU – an amount that will likely be lower, offset by a county general fund contribution.

Commissioner Per Diem, Travel & Mileage

During the Nov. 17 meeting, Leah Gunn introduced a resolution to eliminate per diem, travel and mileage reimbursement for commissioners. She began by noting that that she had unsuccessfully introduced a similar resolution in 2009. This time, she also included a provision to pay for newly elected commissioners to take a “Commissioner 101″ course. She indicated that she had talked to residents around the county, and had found widespread support for these cuts.

Wes Prater immediately moved to table the resolution, a motion seconded by Rolland Sizemore Jr. That motion was defeated by a 5-6 vote – voting against it were Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Mark Ouimet, Ken Schwartz, Barbara Bergman and Conan Smith.

The subsequent debate on this resolution lasted more than an hour, with additional attempts to table it, and moments of confusion that resulted at one point in a vote reversal by commissioner Ronnie Peterson.

Jessica Ping began discussion by pointing out that she wanted to table it because she isn’t going to be on the board next year – she didn’t seek re-election, but her sister, Alicia Ping, won an uncontested race for that position, representing District 3. It is important that the new commissioners weigh in, she said. Ping also noted that unlike some of the urban districts, her district included nine municipalities – it’s the biggest district, geographically. She observed that six commissioners represented districts that only had one municipality in it. [There are four commissioners representing different areas of Ann Arbor, for example.] Some commissioners can ride their bikes to meetings in their district, she said, adding, “I can’t ride my bike to Manchester!” Ping also felt it was important for commissioners to keep up to speed on issues by attending conferences, but added that they should report back to the board about what they learned.

Prater said he couldn’t support Gunn’s resolution, saying it was, in part, too late. The board had already addressed this issue when they voted to create flex accounts, which cap each commissioner’s spending at $3,550 per year. It allows commissioners to decide how they want to spend it, either on per diem, travel or other authorized items. Prater also pointed out that the last time commissioners had seen an increase in their salaries was January of 2001. If you calculated cost-of-living increases, by not taking raises over that period, the board has saved the county over $300,000, he said.

Prater also noted that if they approved this resolution, they’d be changing the rules for the incoming commissioners, who ran for office assuming they’d get per diem, travel and mileage. And he supported Ping’s observation about travel – as liaison to the road commission, he said, he attended around 45 meetings for that each year. A round trip from his home to the road commission was 30 miles, he said. “I’m just pointing that out.”

Ken Schwartz also said he wouldn’t support the resolution, saying that it didn’t take into consideration the different types of districts in the county, and the different needs of commissioners.

Kristin Judge argued, as she has in the past, that commissioners shouldn’t have to suffer a financial loss to do their job. It wasn’t good to create a situation in which only independently wealthy people could run for office. They need to make it possible for anyone to run for office, she said, whether it’s a newly graduated student – a reference to Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat in his early 20s who was recently elected to represent District 11, and who attended Wednesday’s meeting in the audience – or someone who is independently wealthy.

Commissioner Per Diem, Travel & Mileage: Mileage

There was then a discussion, leading to some confusion, regarding Barbara Bergman’s desire to retain mileage reimbursements. To do that, a motion was eventually made to amend out the reference to mileage. The amendment effectively left in place the mileage reimbursement.

Alicia Ping, Jessica Ping

Jessica Ping, right, talks with her sister Alicia Ping before the start of the Nov. 17 county board of commissioners meeting. Jessica Ping represents District 3, a seat that Alicia Ping won in an uncontested Nov. 2 election.

In deliberations on the amendment, Ping said that until this election cycle, there wasn’t clarity about what commissioners could be reimbursed for. During the last budget cycle, she said she’d been asked by the county administrator to make presentations about the budget to municipalities in her district. She was asked to represent the county, yet those types of meetings weren’t on the official list of meetings that commissioners can be reimbursed for attending, she noted. It’s really important to review the list of what meetings are allowable, she said, and not to take away mileage reimbursement. Every commissioner who represented a large geographic district “got nailed” by the media and the public on this issue, Ping said. [She was alluding to allegations that emerged prior to the Nov. 2 election, charging that Mark Ouimet and other commissioners had been inappropriately reimbursed for ineligible expenses. See Chronicle coverage: "County Commissioner Expenses Debated"]

Ping concluded by saying that she has nothing to lose, since she didn’t seek reelection. But it was an important issue for commissioners to consider.

Judge and Bergman both agreed, saying that representing the county in the way that Ping described should be reimbursed.

At this point, Irwin pointed out that nothing they’d just discussed related to the resolution they were considering. From Ping’s perspective, the amendment would actually be an improvement, he noted, since it would leave mileage reimbursement in place. He observed that changing the rules for what meetings qualify for reimbursement is a separate issue. He voiced support for the amendment.

Schwartz said it was his understanding that under current rules, you couldn’t request a per diem for attending a meeting that wasn’t part of the approved list, but that you could get reimbursed for mileage. Smith said that was an incorrect understanding – mileage should only be reimbursed for qualified meetings.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to amend out the item on mileage from the resolution.

Commissioner Per Diem, Travel & Mileage: Per Diem

Sizemore said if someone sought to serve on the county board because of the compensation, then “you’re messing yourself up from the beginning.” He said he appreciated the amount of work that Gunn, Smith and Judge had put into this topic. The work that commissioners do goes beyond the number of meetings they attend, he observed. It includes all the phone calls you get, or the times when you go out to dinner with your wife and someone comes and sits down at your table for 20 minutes to talk about a county issue.

As a point of information, Gunn reminded commissioners that issues of compensation are made before the new board takes office. So if they want to eliminate per diems, they must do it now, not in January. She reiterated the major budget challenges they’d be facing, noting that they’ll be asking employees and others to make big sacrifices. “This is a symbol of us biting the bullet and saying we’re going to do our part as well,” she said.

Irwin asked that they consider the resolution’s remaining three parts separately: 1) eliminating per diems for attending meetings, 2) eliminating travel compensation, including registration and hotel costs for conferences, and 3) paying for the “Commissioner 101″ course that new commissioners attend.

Gunn moved to vote on the item that would eliminate per diems.

Prater repeated his previous comments about the fact that commissioners hadn’t received a raise since 2001. [In addition to their $3,550 flex accounts, commissioners earn $15,500 annually, plus fringe benefits. Officers receive higher pay: $18,500 for the board chair (Rolland Sizemore Jr.), $16,000 for the board vice chair (Mark Ouimet), $16,500 for the Ways & Means Committee chair (Conan Smith) and the working session chair (Jessica Ping).]

Prater said he’d reviewed his calendar for the years when he served as board chair, in 2005 and 2006. He had attended about 140 meetings in both of those years, with very little compensation. He said the board has done its part in cutting costs, but the per diem is justified. “That’s my position, and I’m not ashamed to say it,” he concluded.

Smith said he opposed per diems. Already, commissioners are well-compensated for the hours that they put in, he said. As for serving on other boards and committees, “I feel that’s what I’m paid to do,” he said.

Peterson said he shared Prater’s concerns. He wondered whether anyone would want to serve on other committees and boards, if they eliminated per diem payments. Perhaps they should consider eliminating having commissioners serve as liaisons to other boards, committees and commissions, he said.

Commissioners then voted on the motion to eliminate per diem. The motion passed on a 6-5 vote, with support from Ouimet, Peterson, Smith, Bergman, Gunn, and Irwin.

It then emerged that Peterson had intended to vote against the motion. Because he cast a vote on the prevailing side, he could bring back the motion for reconsideration – which he did, after some discussion clarifying his position.

Outcome: The motion to eliminate per diem failed upon reconsideration. Voting against it were Peterson, Judge, Prater, Sizemore, Schwartz, and Ping.

Commissioner Per Diem, Travel & Mileage: Travel

Peterson clarified that the flex accounts cap expenses at $3,550 per commissioner. He pointed out that the board faces a large deficit in 2012 and 2013, and that they as a board should set the tone. He said he’d be interested in looking at eliminating travel for the entire county staff – he’d support having a travel moratorium for everyone. If they’re going to talk about cuts, “let’s be real,” he said, and put everything on the table. Peterson said that sometimes he felt like he was the only one who spoke for the people in the county who were struggling. If the other commissioners cared about those people, they’d be talking about the overall budget.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr., Jeff Irwin, Barbara Bergman, Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson.

Gunn replied that she took great umbrage at the suggestion that the rest of the board doesn’t care about the struggles of county residents. Her resolution was about setting the tone, she added, and about sending the message to the public and employees that commissioners were willing to share the sacrifice. “But obviously, we’re not,” she said.

Prater said he had asked the administration to review conferences and travel expenses for employees, and that it would be handled in the internal audit.

Peterson then moved to table the item on travel, and Judge seconded the motion. The motion to table failed, with support only from Peterson, Judge and Smith.

Prater asked Curtis Hedger, the county’s attorney, whether this was a policy they could change at any time throughout the year. Hedger said that only mileage can be changed, since it’s considered reimbursement, not compensation. Items regarding compensation must be set before the start of the next term, in January. Prater then argued that they should vote the resolution down, and work on a policy when the new commissioners come on board.

Smith pointed out that if they voted it down now, then even if they set a policy on it next year, it wouldn’t take effect until the start of the next term, in 2013. Responding to a query from Peterson, Smith said that if it were voted down that evening, someone from the prevailing side could bring it back at their Dec. 1 meeting. But since they only have one meeting scheduled in December, it would need to be considered at both the Ways & Means committee as well as the regular board meeting. [Typically, items are given an initial vote at the Ways & Means committee meeting, which immediately precedes the regular board meeting. If approved, they are then considered at the regular board meeting two weeks later.]

Schwartz observed that another possibility would be for someone to bring back a new resolution on the same topic – Hedger confirmed that this would be possible.

At this point, Gunn called the question – a parliamentary move that forces a vote. Only three commissioners – Gunn, Bergman and Ouimet – voted in support of eliminating travel expenses, and that motion failed.

Outcome: The motion to eliminate travel expenses failed, with support only from Gunn, Bergman and Ouimet.

Commissioner Per Diem, Travel & Mileage: “Commissioner 101″ Course

Gunn’s resolution included a provision to pay for newly elected commissioners to take a “Commissioner 101″ course, which is offered through the local Michigan State University extension program. Judge pointed out that the county typically pays for these courses. Irwin said that in that case, the motion should be ruled out of order, since it addresses something the county already does. He also noted that it related directly to the previous clauses, which had been voted down.

Gunn agreed, and withdrew the motion.

Overall outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to amend out consideration of mileage from the resolution. A later vote on the item to eliminate per diem payments initially passed, but Peterson indicated he had intended to vote the opposite way. The item was brought back for reconsideration – Peterson changed his vote, resulting in its failure to pass. Voting against it were Peterson, Sizemore, Ping, Prater, Judge and Schwartz. A vote on the item to eliminate travel expenses also failed – getting support only from Gunn, Bergman and Ouimet. Gunn withdrew the provision to pay for newly elected commissioners to take a “Commissioner 101″ course, when it emerged that this was already standard practice.

County Budget Issues

In addition to the resolution regarding commissioner per diem, travel and mileage, several other budget-related items were handled during Wednesday’s meeting.

County Budget Issues: Public Hearing on 2011 Budget

At the board’s Nov. 3 meeting, commissioners took an initial vote on a resolution making adjustments to the 2011 general fund budget. Among other things, the resolution directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to make proposals for cutting $1,034,988 out of the original budget of $98,493,155. During that meeting, commissioners discussed some of the proposed changes, and voted to set a Nov. 17  public hearing on the 2011 budget revisions. The board is expected to take its final vote on the 2011 budget changes at their Dec. 1 meeting.

Three people spoke at the budget hearing on Wednesday, including two people representing local nonprofits, who urged commissioners not to cut county funding to human services agencies.

Angie Moore, agency administrator for the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, described the range of services offered by the center, providing a safety net for people who are experiencing emotional or financial crisis. Those services include personal and financial counseling, job coaching, divorce support, legal clinics and more. Moore said the center serves about 600 people each year, regardless of insurance or income, and provides referrals to about 3,000 others who call for help. In this economic downturn, those needs are increasing, she said, and more services are required. The center employs 3.75 full-time staff, with no health benefits, Moore said. They understand the county’s budget crunch – the center itself takes hit after hit, she said, while demand just increases. Moore urged commissioners, when making their budget decisions, to take into account the small nonprofits that serve residents who don’t attend these board meetings.

Joan Doughty, executive director of the Community Action Network (CAN), said that Moore’s comments had captured what many nonprofits are experiencing. CAN is a small nonprofit that’s looking at expansion, she said. It works with families in low-income, under-served neighborhoods – a new subsidiary, CAN Southeast, specifically addresses the needs of southeast Ann Arbor. Two years ago, CAN took over operation of the Bryant Community Center, and they quickly discovered that flooding was a serious issue in that area, and had been for decades. [See Chronicle coverage: "Water Main Project Set for Bryant Area"] The reason that no one on city council knew about it is that the people in that community didn’t have a voice, she said. Most nonprofits that work with at-risk populations represent people without a voice, she added – these are people who can’t come and sit through a county board meeting in order to speak about their issues. Doughty told commissioners that every cut they make in their budget will hurt much more than ever before. She thanked them for considering that.

Thomas Partridge, a regular speaker during public commentary, criticized Republican governor-elect Rick Snyder, saying it was wrong to tell the populace that the solution to Michigan’s economic crisis is to eliminate the business tax. He urged the Democratic leadership on the county board and in the state to heed a call to unity.

County Budget Issues: Other Public Commentary

Mike Fried, who made an unsuccessful bid for the District 11 county board seat in the August 2010 Democratic primary, spoke during public commentary with some suggestions for dealing with a 2011 budget deficit. Among his suggestions were giving incentives to departments that can cut costs – incentives like giving them priority for IT or other services, or setting aside funds for mini-grants that they can bid on. Fried also urged commissioners to think about other sources of revenue, and suggested the possibility of supporting a centralized grant-writing position, or tapping resources at the University of Michigan. Directing his comments to the two commissioners who were elected on Nov. 2 to the state legislature – Republican Mark Ouimet and Democrat Jeff Irwin – Fried suggested that the state provide a mechanism on its tax forms that would allow residents to donate money to their local government. Finally, he noted that openness is key, because they’ll need the trust of the people as they make these difficult budget decisions.

County Budget Issues: Setting Priorities

On every agenda is a slot for commissioners to identify items for current and future discussion. Kristin Judge said that she and Ronnie Peterson were hoping to set a special meeting for Dec. 8, to start setting priorities as they head into budget discussions for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. Barbara Bergman thought that priority-setting was important, but wanted to wait until the four newly elected commissioners were sworn into office in January, so that they could take part. She said it was inappropriate to do it before then.

Judge responded by saying that the new commissioners could attend the Dec. 8 meeting – she agreed that it was important for them to be included.

Peterson then gave a lengthy statement, expressing frustration that they had spent over an hour debating an issue that amounted to around $30,000 annually – the commissioners’ per diem, travel and mileage expenses. That is roughly the equivalent of an entry-level clerk’s job, he pointed out, while they were facing a budget deficit in 2012-13 of $20 million. People’s livelihoods are at stake, he said, whether it involves receiving services from the county or being employed by the county. He urged his colleagues to start addressing the budget shortfall as early as possible.

County Budget Issues: Internal Audit

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to authorize the finance department to issue a request for proposals (RFP), soliciting bids from firms to perform an internal audit on the county’s finances. Kristin Judge thanked county administrator Verna McDaniel and deputy administrator Bill Reynolds for their work on the project, saying she hoped it would move forward quickly. The audit would begin by reviewing existing internal controls, followed by a risk assessment to identify which departments to examine first.

Jeff Irwin asked how much the audit would cost. McDaniel said they wouldn’t know until responses to the RFP came back.

Money Purchase Pension Plans

Without discussion, the board voted to give final approval to transfer pension funds that have accumulated for commissioners in a Money Purchase Pension Plan (MPPP), moving the funds to a 457 deferred compensation program of their choice before the end of 2010. Commissioners are currently the only county employees who are enrolled in the MPPP – the county pays Prudential $10,000 annually to administer the plan. In addition, the county contributes 7.5% of each commissioner’s salary to the MPPP, or a total of $13,200 annually.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved transferring commissioners’ pension funds from the Money Purchase Pension Plan into a 457 deferred compensation program of their choice.

Appointments: Road Commission

As an item for current or future discussion, Rolland Sizemore Jr. stated that he was unhappy with the management of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and he wanted the board to address it. [This was a topic he'd also raised at the board's Nov. 8 administrative briefing.] The staff isn’t responsive, and they don’t return phone calls from residents, he said. Perhaps it’s time to look at different management, he said.

Wes Prater observed that there are a number of boards and commissions that need to have members appointed, including the road commission board. When was the county board going to address that? he asked. In the past they had conducted public interviews for the road commission board, and he hoped that they would do the same this time.

Sizemore said he’d asked deputy administrator Bill Reynolds to review all of the roughly 60 county appointed boards, commissions and committees, to see if any of them could be eliminated or combined. He wanted to wait until that process is completed – likely in early 2011 – before making appointments.

Kristin Judge suggested conducting interviews for the road commission board as part of a Dec. 8 special meeting. Ronnie Peterson said he didn’t understand the need to wait – if there were appointments they could make now, they should do it, he said.

By way of background, there are three members of the road commission board, who are appointed by the county board of commissioners. The road commission has its own budget – funded by the state – and operates independently from the county. A public hearing on the road commission’s 2011 budget is set for Dec. 9.

One of the three current road commissioners – David Rutledge – was elected to the state House of Representatives on Nov. 2, for District 54. The other current commissioners are Doug Fuller and Fred Veigel. That leaves one vacancy on the board. Seven people have applied:

  • Mary Beth Day of Grass Lake, chair of the Washtenaw County Conservation District.
  • James Drolett of Pinckney, a planning and zoning administrator for the city of Chelsea, and former Dexter Township supervisor.
  • Scott Hummel of Dexter, an elementary school physical education teacher in Dearborn and golf course supervisor for the Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor.
  • Roger Kappler of Sharon Township, former CEO of Hines Industries and former Sharon Township trustee.
  • Jeffrey Alan Lewis of Pittsfield Township, chief of the Milan police department and a former 20-year veteran of the Ypsilanti police force.
  • Jackson Morris of Pittsfield, a retired Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher and administrator who also served for a decade as Pittsfield Township supervisor.
  • Kenny Siler of Manchester, owner of Pleasant View Farms and president of the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau.

In addition, Sizemore has plans to nominate current county commissioner Ken Schwartz, a Democrat representing District 2 who was defeated in the Nov. 2 election by Republican Dan Smith. This possibility has not been floated publicly during any of the recent discussions at county board meetings, but in a phone interview with The Chronicle, Sizemore said he felt that Schwartz was the best person for the job.

Sizemore said that Schwartz – whose district covers northeast Washtenaw, including the townships of Superior, Salem and Northfield – is familiar with the county, having previously served on the board of Superior Township and as an attorney for Augusta Township, in addition to his work as a county commissioner. Schwartz also understands what the board of commissioners wants from the road commission, Sizemore said, adding that the tough economy requires a different kind of management in the road commission. [Steve Puuri is the current managing director of the road commission.] “I know I’ll take heat for it,” Sizemore said, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

There is precedent for this kind of move. The county board appointed Wes Prater to the road commission when Prater lost the election for his county commissioner seat in 2006. He resigned from the road commission during his 2008 campaign for the county board – he won that election, and has served as the board’s liaison to the road commission since then.

Road commissioners, who earn a base salary of $10,500, are appointed to six-year terms. Earlier this year, commissioner Jeff Irwin unsuccessfully lobbied to expand the number of road commissioners from three to five. That expansion might be another strategy pursued by county board members next year.

PORT Street Soccer

Several members of the county’s Street Soccer team, the SSPORT, attended Wednesday’s meeting. The group is part of the county’s homeless project outreach team (PORT), which provides mental health and other support services to the local homeless population. The players had participated in the third annual Street Soccer USA Cup this summer in Washington D.C., where they received the Fair Play Award. One of the players, David Altherr, had been picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil in September.

Sara Silvennoinen, the team’s coach and a county PORT staff member, encouraged commissioners to participate in the 24-hour Soccerthon to be held at WideWorld Sports Center starting on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the SSPORT team, she said. [To register, groups must have a minimum of 12 people to play for 1 hour. Minimum donations are $200 per group or $10 per person for groups of 20 or more. To register, contact Linda Bacigalupi at bacigalupil@ewashtenaw.org or Sara Silvennoinen at silvennoinens@ewashtenaw.org.]

The soccer team got a round of applause, and several commissioners praised both the team and PORT. Leah Gunn said she didn’t play, although her granddaughters are “fantastic” soccer players. She said she’d just write a check to support the team. “You make us proud,” she said. Conan Smith said he’d try to attend: “It may be embarrassing for all involved, but I’ll show up.”

Washtenaw Housing Alliance: Homeless Awareness Week

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, who retired in May, was on hand to receive a resolution declaring Nov. 14-20, 2010 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, presented to him by current county administrator Verna McDaniel.

Patrick Barrie, Bob Guenzel

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, right, talks with Patrick Barrie, executive director of the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, prior to the start of the Nov. 17 meeting of the county board of commissioners.

Guenzel is chair of the nonprofit Washtenaw Housing Alliance, a consortium of more than two dozen groups working to end homelessness. In comments to the board, he announced that WHA has hired Julie Steiner as its new executive director, effective Dec. 1. He told commissioners to expect a re-energized effort related to the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. Steiner has served as executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House, a family homeless shelter. Also taking part in the presentation was Ellen Schulmeister, CEO of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, who has been serving as interim head of the WHA.

Steiner told the board that it was an exciting time, and she’d keep them informed about the WHA’s progress.

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.

Next board meeting: The next regular meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 1, 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. (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. [confirm date]


  1. By Mark Koroi
    November 22, 2010 at 11:28 pm | permalink

    The rejection of the proposed resolution to abolish per diems, travel and mileage payments is nothing short of appalling and represents a disturbing indifference to those suffering in our community due to the region’s economic crisis.

    The passage of this proposed resolution would have been largely symbolic. Citizens should react by sending e-mails to the County Commission expressing disapproval with this vote.

    Further, the commissioners failing to support this resolution should be voted out of office at the earliest oportunity.

  2. By Kristin Judge
    November 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm | permalink

    Dear Mark,

    You should be even more disturbed by the fact that the resolution I brought before the board last month was not supported. I tried to eliminate the larger cost to taxpayers of life-time health care and pensions for part-time elected officials. These are perks that I do not think taxpayers feel are justified. I encourage you to reread this article: [link]

    The expenses occurred while doing business for the county should be reimbursed so that anyone can serve. If someone does not have the financial means to attend the hundreds of meetings a year that it takes to be an effective commissioner, then they may decide not to run. Having a way to be reimbursed allows anyone to serve. Commissioner Prater and I also started the Transparency Initiative and with the help of our amazing staff have a website that now shows you how each commissioner is spending any money they are allotted. Go to this link to see the accountability: [link]

    If you would ever like to speak about this more, please call me on my personal cell phone at 734-646-2088. I also eliminated my county cell phone to save taxpayers about $1,000/year.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    November 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm | permalink

    Commissioner Judge:

    Thank you for your prompt response to my post.

    I have no quibble with reasonable compensation for necessary mileage and travel expenses. If that is what the proposed resolution sets forth and the Board of Commissioners want to eliminate those items as well, more power to them.

    I do, however, vehemently oppose as “double-dipping” the payment of a commissioner’s salary in addition to per diem reimbursemnt.

    I thank all those commissioners who supported Mrs. Gunn’s resolution.

    I note that Commissioner Ken Schwartz, who voted against the resolution abolishing per diems, was voted out of office and replaced with a Republican. It is possible, and likely, that his replacement would support this resolution if it were re-introduced sometime next year. I would expect it to pass at that time.

    In the alternative, I would suggest the proposed resolution that failed be modified to simply address per diems but exclude mileage and travel expenditures from being abolished. Perhaps then there will be sufficient support for passage.

    “….I tried to eliminate the larger cost to taxpayers of lifetime health care and pensions for part-time elected officials. These are perks that I do not think that taxpayers feel are justified….”

    You are probably correct with you perception of taxpayer attitudes. I am satisfied with County Commission members receiving a flat salary of $15,000.00 with no other perks. However my recollection was that your proposal received little encouragement by your fellow commisioners. My focus at this juncture is to eliminate double-dipping via the per diems. Maybe your proposed resolution regarding pension and health care will get a warmer reception in the future by your fellow commissioners.

    Until action is taken to abolish the per diems, the County Commission can expect to receive a torrent of adverse public opinion and citizen pressure from residents across the county to move on this issue post-haste.

  4. By Kerry D.
    November 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm | permalink

    I encourage doing away with per diem meeting compensation.

    I think Leah Gunn has been completely on point with her criticisms of the current system.

    Ironically, it was the Washtenaw County Democratic Party that placed a spotlight with the per diem problems to torpedo the candidacy of Republican Mark Ouimet in the State House race. Now its the Democrats on the County Commission that want to retain these.

  5. By Leah Gunn
    November 28, 2010 at 10:15 am | permalink

    I appreciate the support I have received from the community in my efforts to eliminate certain compensation (per diems and travel) for Commissioners. I would like to point out, however, that the sitting Commissioners have to decide before the end of the year about compensation, because once the new Board takes office in January of 2011, state law prohibits us from changing our compensation. It would only be applied to people elected in 2012.

    I have already heard that there is push back from our employees, whom we exopect to take cuts. And, the amount of money in the flex accounts (about $38,000) would go a very long way with some of the local non-profits who are struggling to provide services. I am told that Food Gatherers’ demand has increased 128% in the last year. Symbolic it may be, but I believe it’s the right thing to do. My flex account spending for 2011 will be the same as it was in 2010 – zero.