New Board Rules OK’d by Commissioners

At its first meeting of 2013 on Jan. 2, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners discussed and approved a revised set of board rules and regulations that are intended to govern their actions, meetings and other governance issues. [.pdf of revised board rules & regulations prior to amendments at the Jan. 2, 2013 meeting]

This is a standard agenda item for the first meeting of the year. The major change, on a 5-4 vote, was to remove the ability of a commissioner to abstain from a vote. The deleted sentence in the board rules – which had been added in February 2012 – was this: “Commissioners may abstain from voting on resolutions that express support or opposition and otherwise take no action.” The amendment to strike the rule was put forward by Conan Smith (D-District 9). Voting in favor of the deletion were Conan Smith, Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8).

The motion was initially declared dead by newly elected board chair Yousef Rabhi, for lack of a seconding motion – when after extended silence no commissioner was willing to support Conan Smith’s proposed change. When Sizemore became alert to the intent of the change, and expressed a desire to see the rule change implemented, Rabhi allowed Sizemore to second Smith’s motion.

The question of abstaining from votes has related primarily to resolutions on state or federal issues, over which the county board has no control. A year ago, Republican Dan Smith successfully convinced a majority of commissioners to add to the board rules the ability to abstain. Smith’s proposal occurred in the wake of the board’s final meeting in December 2011, when Yousef Rabhi – a Democrat from Ann Arbor – brought forward a resolution urging state lawmakers to reject HB 4770HB 4771 and “any legislation that codifies discrimination.”

The state legislation, which was later signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, removed the ability to extend benefits to same-sex partners. During deliberations on that resolution, Smith and Rob Turner, another Republican commissioner who is no longer on the board, had objected to bringing forward resolutions that were not focused on Washtenaw County issues. They wanted the ability to abstain from voting on such resolutions.

This year, the county board might already be moving to weigh in on a state-level issue. The board has called a special working session for Jan. 3 to discuss the state’s new “right to work” law, which was passed during the legislature’s lame duck session late last year.

The Jan. 2 vote on approval of the overall board rules and regulations, as amended, was unanimous.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]