Stories indexed with the term ‘Washtenaw County Trial Court’

Five Candidates Vie for Probate Judgeship

Five candidates seeking to be the next Washtenaw County probate judge answered questions about themselves, probate law and general judicial philosophy at a candidate forum held July 7, 2014. The forum was moderated by the League of Women Voters and broadcast on Community Television Network.

Probate court candidates from left: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Julia Owdziej and Tracy Van den Bergh.

Probate court candidates from left: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Julia Owdziej and Tracy Van den Bergh.

Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Tracy Van den Bergh and recently appointed judge Julia Owdziej will appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot. The nonpartisan primary will narrow the race to two candidates for the Nov. 4 general election.

Owdziej was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder just last month, on June 2, to fill the vacancy on the court left by Nancy Wheeler’s retirement. The announcement of that retirement came on May 1, after candidates had filed to run. Wheeler was expected to retire at the end of the year, but it came earlier than expected due to health reasons. Bassett, Garwood and Jones currently work in private practice while Van den Bergh is a staff attorney for a legal services nonprofit.

On its website, the LWV has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [Probate court candidate responses] As of July 17, the website had not been updated to reflect the fact that the race now has an incumbent.

The county probate judge handles largely estate cases, and issues regarding mental health and addiction. During the July 7 judicial forum, the candidates made opening statements, answered six questions and then made closing statements. The forum was moderated by Miriam Eve Borenstein with questions predetermined by the League of Women Voters after asking for public submissions.

Candidates’ remarks are summarized below. To view the recorded video from the probate court LWV forum, use Community Television Network’s video on demand.  [Full Story]

County Wraps Up 2013 with PACE Initiative

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 4, 2013): At their final meeting of 2013, commissioners spent most of the time discussing a proposal to create a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Andy Levin, Felicia Brabec, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Lean & Green Michigan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Andy Levin of Lean & Green Michigan talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Felicia Brabec before the county board’s Dec. 4, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

They ultimately gave initial approval to a notice of intent to form a PACE program. If created, the program would allow commercial property owners in Washtenaw County to fund energy improvements by securing financing from lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments.

The county’s proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program. Andy Levin, who’s spearheading the PACE program statewide through Lean & Green, was on hand during the Dec. 4 meeting to field questions. Levin – son of U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin and nephew of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin – was head of the Michigan Dept. of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DELEG) during Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, when the PACE legislation was enacted.

Also attending the Dec. 4 meeting was state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-District 18), who spoke briefly during public commentary to support the county’s initiative. She was instrumental in passing the state enabling legislation to allow such programs in Michigan. Warren is married to county commissioner Conan Smith, a co-founder of the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, which is a partner in Lean & Green Michigan.

A final vote on the notice of intent is now scheduled for the board’s first meeting next year – on Jan. 8, 2014. A public hearing on this issue has been set for the board’s Jan. 22 meeting. That’s because the board would need to take an additional vote to actually create the PACE district. No date for that vote to create the district has been set.

In other action, commissioners accepted a $150,000 state grant to establish the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s Peacemaking Court. Timothy Connors, a 22nd circuit court judge who’s leading this initiative, attended the Dec. 4 meeting and told the board that this project will explore and determine what, if any, tribal court philosophies or procedures might have applicability in Michigan’s courts. Participation in the peacemaking court will be voluntary.

The board also made a raft of appointments, including appointing the county’s water resources commissioner, Evan Pratt, as director of public works. That vote came over dissent from commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. The board of public works had raised a question about the appointment’s potential conflict-of-interest, given that Pratt holds an elected office as water resources commissioner. The county’s corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, prepared a legal opinion on the issue, stating that the appointment would not be prohibited by the state’s Incompatible Public Offices Act.

No appointment was made to the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – is not seeking reappointment. During the Dec. 4 meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi indicated that there’s some uncertainty about when Murphy’s one-year term actually ends, and he was sorting that out with state and RTA officials. Because RTA board members weren’t sworn in until April of 2013, some state and RTA officials believe the term extends until April – even though appointments for Washtenaw County’s two slots were made by the previous county board chair, Conan Smith, in late 2012.

The application process is still open for the RTA, with a new deadline of Jan. 12. That same deadline applies to openings on the county’s food policy council and parks & recreation commission. Applicants can submit material online, or get more information by contacting the county clerk’s office at 734-222-6655 or [Full Story]

County “Peacekeeping Court” Gets Funding

At their Dec. 4, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners authorized acceptance of a $150,000 grant to establish the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s Peacemaking Court. The grant, awarded by the State Court Administrator’s Office, is for funding from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.

The state grants are intended to support creative approaches in the court system. The Peacemaking Court is described in a staff memo:
Like tribal peacemaking programs and restorative justice programs, the Peacemaking Court will provide a great benefit to youth and the community in juvenile cases by reducing recidivism and giving youth a diversionary option to avoid a record that can preclude future educational and employment opportunities. Domestic relations and other family cases will benefit from more durable … [Full Story]

Leadership Changes Set at Trial Court

David S. Swartz has been named chief judge of the Washtenaw County Trial Court, effective Jan. 1, 2014. The appointment was made by the Michigan Supreme Court and announced in a press release issued on Oct. 24 by court administrator Dan Dwyer.

Swartz will replace current chief judge Donald Shelton, who has served in that position for four years. Because of his age, Shelton will be ineligible for re-election when his term ends next year. The state constitution requires that judicial candidates at the time of election must be younger than 70 years old. According to the press release, as of Jan. 1 Shelton will be presiding judge of of the trial court’s civil/criminal division through the end of 2014, … [Full Story]

County to Keep Trial Court Budget Agreement

At their Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners rejected a proposal that would have given notice to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for Washtenaw County’s court system. The vote was 3-6, with support from only Dan Smith (R-District 2), Conan Smith (D-District 9) and Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1).

The issue had arisen this summer, when commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3) had brought forward a resolution to give notice to the courts. She did that at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting in a move that caught some commissioners by surprise, although for several weeks during earlier budget deliberations Ping had expressed concerns over the county’s approach to funding the court system. Voting in favor of initial approval on June 5 … [Full Story]

County Board Debates Infrastructure Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 4, 2013): A five-hour meeting was dominated by two debates: funding for a new software system for the Washtenaw County trial court, and the future of county-owned property on Platt Road.

Charles Beatty Jr., Washtenaw Head Start, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Charles Beatty Jr. attended the Sept. 4 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting to accept a resolution in honor of his father, Charles Beatty Sr. The board supports naming the Head Start building at 1661 LeForge in Ypsilanti – owned by the county – in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., who was influential in early childhood education. (Photos by the writer.)

For the site at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road – the former juvenile center – staff have proposed a process that focuses on possibly using the site for affordable housing. A $100,000 planning grant is available to explore that option. However, several commissioners – while expressing support for affordable housing in general – wanted to look at a broader range of alternatives, including the possibility of selling the site, which some believe could be worth $2 million. After more than an hour of debate, the board voted to postpone action until its Sept. 18 meeting, directing staff to prepare an alternative resolution to consider.

Another lengthy debate focused on the funding mechanism for new trial court software, estimated to cost $2.3 million. The vendor of the current system went out of business several years ago, and replacement is critical. Donald Shelton, chief judge of the trial court, told commissioners: “If this [software] system goes down, our judicial system in the county simply stops operating.”

Some commissioners wanted a more formal mechanism to repay the county’s investment in the system, which includes nearly $1.3 million from capital reserves. The board eventually passed a resolution stating that revenues from the court’s electronic filing fees will be used to reimburse the capital reserves. E-filing fees – likely to be $6 per filing – are expected initially to generate only about $45,000 in revenues. The e-filing will start with civil cases, with phased roll-out to other cases, including criminal and probate. At some point, e-filing might become mandatory.

A range of other significant action items yielded far less discussion. The board gave initial approval to a new micro loan program for small businesses, to be managed by the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development. Also getting initial approval was a range of grants administered by the county’s office of community & economic development, as well as a resolution that would give blanket approval in the future to nearly 30 annual entitlement grants received by the county totaling an estimated $8.8 million, beginning in 2014. Currently, each of those grants requires separate annual approval by the board.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to strengthen the county’s affirmative action plan, as well as other nondiscrimination in employment-related policies. The primary change adds a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Community activist Jim Toy and Jason Morgan, who serves on the board of the Jim Toy Community Center, spoke during public commentary to support the changes.

Other items receiving an initial vote from the board include: (1) adding three new full-time jobs for stewardship of the county nature preserves; (2) adding a new 10-bed treatment program for female teens in the county’s youth center that will create a net increase of 5.46 jobs; and (3) budgets for the county’s public health and community support & treatment service (CSTS) departments.

During the meeting, the board also honored the nonprofit Dawn Farm on its 40th anniversary, and recognized Bill McFarlane, the long-time Superior Township supervisor who recently announced his resignation due to health issues. Commissioners also supported renaming the county-owned Head Start building in Ypsilanti in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., a pioneer in early childhood education.

Topics that emerged during public commentary included a plea to urge state legislators to repeal Michigan’s version of a “stand your ground” law. Board chair Yousef Rabhi indicated his intent to bring forward such a resolution on Sept. 18 – similar to one passed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 8, 2013. Rabhi also plans to introduce a resolution on Sept. 18 advocating for stronger cleanup standards of 1,4 dioxane – the contaminant in an underground plume caused by Pall-Gelman’s Scio Township operations. The Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution on Sept. 3, 2013 related to this issue.

Also on Sept. 18, a public hearing will be held to get input on a proposed increase to the Washtenaw County tax that supports services for indigent veterans and their families. The current rate is 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. The new proposed rate of 1/30th of a mill would be levied in December 2013 to fund services in 2014. It’s expected to generate $463,160 in revenues. The public hearing was scheduled by commissioners at their Sept. 4 meeting. [Full Story]

County Board Postpones Spending Proposals

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Aug. 7, 2013): A packed agenda and lengthy debate on several items led to a meeting lasting over five hours, with some issues postponed until September.

Alicia Ping, Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Commissioners Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Smith brought forward a proposal to allocate money from the general fund’s reserves to pay for previously cut social service programs, but the proposal didn’t win support from Ping or most other commissioners on Aug. 7. (Photos by the writer.)

Following an unexpected proposal from the floor and considerable discussion, commissioners gave initial approval to authorize a $654,670 increase in 2013 general fund revenues and expenses, bringing the total general fund budget to 103,218,903. [.pdf of 2013 budget adjustment chart]

Despite the better-than-anticipated revenue picture, the administration is still projecting a deficit of $3.9 million for next year’s 2014 budget.

Generally, mid-year budget adjustments are recommended by staff and are typically dispatched with minimal discussion. However, a proposed amendment by Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9) would have transferred money from the general fund’s unearmarked reserves to restore over $1 million in funding to programs that had been previously cut. He argued that restoring this funding was possible in light of $2.3 million in higher-than-expected property tax revenues this year.

Several commissioners expressed general support for Smith’s intent, but cautioned against acting quickly and not giving sufficient strategic thought to these allocations. They had seen the proposal for the first time that night. Smith argued that he had asked for the budget adjustment resolution to be pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting, because he had wanted more time for discussion. Chastising other commissioners for not taking action to spend the unanticipated revenues, Smith noted that the board had identified human services as a priority, but was instead funding things like software and facilities. He told commissioners it was “one of the worst nights I’ve ever had on this board.”

The board voted down his proposal, but then postponed a final vote on the overall budget adjustments until its Sept. 4 meeting. Several commissioners indicated an interest in working with Smith to address some of his concerns before then.

The 2013 budget was also a highlight during a second-quarter update by the county’s financial staff, who reported that they’re now expecting a $245,814 general fund surplus for the year. In addition, the 2013 general fund budget is not expected to need a previously planned use of $2.8 million from the fund balance. [.pdf of 2Q budget presentation]

In other business, commissioners held a lengthy debate over a resolution for a new case management software system for the Washtenaw County Trial Court that’s estimated to cost $2.3 million. An original resolution had outlined funding sources for the project. However, prior to the meeting some commissioners expressed concern about the use of capital reserves to help fund the purchase, so an alternative resolution was brought forward at the meeting that did not include the references to funding sources.

However, Dan Smith (R-District 2) objected to passing a resolution that approved the purchase but did not include a funding plan. Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was concerned that there had been no clear source of funding identified for the system’s annual licensing fee, estimated at $188,933.

An amendment to that alternative resolution – made after considerable discussion and procedural maneuverings – stated that the board approved the selection of this software system, and directed the county administrator to develop a maintenance and implementation plan, and to identify funding sources by the time of the board’s Sept. 4 meeting. That amendment was not enough to win support from D. Smith and Ping, however.

The resolution received initial approval on Aug. 7, but did not garner sufficient votes for final approval. It will be considered again on Sept. 4.

The board also debated – and ultimately approved – two long-term leases: (1) the 10-year lease of a county-owned Head Start building at 1661 Leforge Ave. in Ypsilanti to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; and (2) a 9-year lease with Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. for space in the City Center Building at 220 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Other action included approval to back up to $3.3 million in bonds to pay for five drain-related and “green infrastructure” projects in Ann Arbor, and authorization to amend a contract between Washtenaw County, Lyndon Township and Sylvan Township related to a sewer system in those townships.

Several grants were accepted during the meeting: (1) about $2.5 million in federal workforce development funding; (2) a $665,704 federal grant to pay for two outreach workers with the Washtenaw Health Plan (WHP), who will focus on increasing children’s participation in federal Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), known as children’s Medicaid; and (3) a $20,000 capacity-building grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation for work on the Washtenaw food policy council.

Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, was on hand with several representatives of the United Association (UA) Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sprinkler Fitters, Steamfitters, and Service Technicians. The UA is holding its 60th annual training program in Washtenaw County from Aug. 10-16. It’s the 24th year that UA has held its training program here. More than 2,500 participants will generate an estimated $5 million into the local economy, Kerr said: “The UA leaves this community in much better condition than when they came at the beginning of the week.” [Full Story]

Trial Court Software Gets Initial Approval

After a lengthy, often convoluted debate, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to the selection of a new record-keeping software system for the Washtenaw County Trial Court that’s estimated to cost $2.3 million. The vote took place at the ways & means committee meeting of the board of commissioners on Aug. 7, 2013. However, the resolution did not garner sufficient votes for final approval, and will be considered again on Sept. 4.

The Tyler Odyssey Case Records Management System would replace an outdated software system that hasn’t been supported by the previous vendor since 2005, according to a staff memo.

The board’s original resolution included a funding proposal for this system, from the following sources: (1) a $551,998 refund from the … [Full Story]

County Gets Input on Bonding, Despite Delay

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 10, 2013): A non-voting item – the county’s bonding proposal, which is now on hold – was the focus of most public commentary at the board’s July 10 meeting, which also included a previously scheduled public hearing on the topic.

Doug Smith, Washtenaw Watchdogs, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Doug Smith, standing, talks with other members of the Washtenaw Watchdogs before the start of the July 10, 2013 county board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Several of those who spoke are affiliated with the Washtenaw Watchdogs. The group has raised concerns about the bonding and is prepared to launch a petition drive that would force the proposal to be put on the ballot for voters to approve.

The bond initiative, publicly proposed in May, was intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations – for the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA). The original maximum amount for the bonds had been estimated at up to $345 million. But updated actuarial data resulted in a lower estimate of about $295 million.

However, on July 3, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and county administrator Verna McDaniel issued a joint statement announcing a decision not to put bond-related action items on the July 10 agenda. They cited the need to address unanswered questions, including uncertainty about the state approval process. No date has been set to reschedule action, if any, on the proposal.

In addition to the bond proposal hearing, the board held three other public hearings during its July 10 meeting: on two brownfield plans in Ann Arbor – for 544 Detroit St. and Packard Square (the former Georgetown Mall) – and for annexing land from Scio Township into the village of Dexter to accommodate the expansion of Dexter Fastener Technologies, known as Dextech. All items were subsequently approved by commissioners.

The board also gave final approval to a range of infrastructure projects totaling about $5 million for county government facilities – including redeveloping the Platt Road site in Ann Arbor where the old juvenile center was located. An amendment brought forward by Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) called for creating a 9-member advisory committee to guide the dispensation of the Platt Road site, which is located in his district. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about the authority of such a committee. He was assured that the board retains control over whether to act on the committee’s recommendations. Details of how the advisory committee will be appointed, as well as the committee’s formal mission, will require approval from the board at a later date.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to a modest increase in staff for the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office – bumping up a staff position from part-time to full-time – primarily to handle an increase in processing passports and concealed pistol license applications. Commissioners also made several appointments to various boards and commissions, nominated by Rabhi as board chair. He announced he wasn’t yet ready to make nominations to the county’s historic district commission.

Also pushed back was a final vote on a notice of intent to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for Washtenaw County’s court system. Initial approval for this action came on a 5-4 vote at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting. But on July 10, Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – who had originally brought forward the proposal – asked for postponement until the board’s Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, citing communications she’d had with trial court chief judge Donald Shelton. The vote to postpone was 6-2, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

In addition to feedback about the bonding proposal, commissioners heard from leaders of two nonprofits – Washtenaw Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative and Interfaith Hospitality Network-Alpha House – about the need to support human services funding. Uncertainty about the upcoming budget has caused concern among nonprofits that have been historically funded by the county.

Also during public commentary, two members of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Ann Arbor thanked commissioners and staff for quickly restoring domestic partner benefits to nine county employees, following recent court rulings that enabled the county to reinstate such benefits.

Facial hair got a minor mention at the July 10 meeting, when Rabhi told Dan Smith: “Your beard is epic – congratulations on it.” Smith used the opening to mention that he’s growing the beard for his role as Lazar Wolf in the upcoming production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The show runs from July 19-21 at the Whitmore Lake High School Theater. He received a round of applause from the board. Peterson joked that he was glad for the explanation – Peterson had been prepared to reach out to Smith with the name of his barber. [Full Story]

County Delays Action on Lump Sum for Courts

A proposal to postpone the final vote on a notice to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for Washtenaw County’s court system was made at the July 10, 2013 meeting of the county board of commissioners. The vote was 6-2, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent. The item was postponed until the board’s Oct. 16, 2013 meeting.

The board had voted last month 5-4 to give initial approval to the notice – at its June 5, 2013 meeting. The proposal had been brought forward by commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3). The move caught some commissioners by surprise, though for several weeks during budget deliberations Ping had expressed concerns over … [Full Story]

County Board Grapples with Court Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 5, 2013): In a move that appeared to surprise many commissioners and staff, Washtenaw County commissioner Alicia Ping formally proposed giving notice to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for the county’s court system.

Yousef Rabhi, Alicia Ping, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Board chair Yousef Rabhi and vice chair Alicia Ping. (Photos by the writer.)

After a lengthy and often heated debate, the board voted 5-4 to give initial approval to the notice, but postponed final action until July 10. Voting in favor of initial approval were Ping, Conan Smith, Dan Smith, Andy LaBarre and Kent Martinez-Kratz. Voting against the proposal were Yousef Rabhi, Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Felicia Brabec.

Ping noted that her goal isn’t necessarily to cut funding for the courts, but rather to be more transparent about where the money goes. The board could ultimately decide to leave the lump-sum approach in place. Giving a notice to terminate the agreement simply gives the board the option to end it.

Conan Smith, who has wrangled with court officials in the past on this issue, argued that the legislative branch is responsible for budgeting, and the board has abrogated that responsibility by agreeing to lump-sum funding. The board gives up far too much authority over line-item expenditures in exchange for “peace in the valley,” he said. “I want to see something different.” With a line-item approach, the county board could indicate priorities for the courts by allocating more funds to specific areas. Dan Smith also argued in favor of the action, noting that the courts are funded with essentially no oversight.

No court officials attended the June 5 meeting. The proposal had not been on the published agenda.

Ronnie Peterson argued most strongly against Ping’s proposal, fearing it would damage the board’s relationship with the courts. Peterson also felt the board itself hadn’t been very accountable regarding a $345 million bond proposal it’s considering. “So as we blast others, let’s prepare to take a few pellets ourselves,” he said. Rolland Sizemore Jr. warned that the board might be starting a fire that they couldn’t put out. He noted that if court officials decide to sue, the county would be required to pay the attorney fees.

Commissioners initially were set to take a final vote at the board meeting that same night – held immediately after the ways & means committee meeting. However, after a break between the two meetings, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger reported that the memorandum of understanding with the courts actually requires a 12-month notice, not the six months that had been discussed. This turned the opinion of some commissioners, who wanted to take more time to study the issue. Andy LaBarre, who chairs the board’s working session, offered to schedule the topic for a working session as soon as possible.

The motion to postpone final action passed on a 6-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Dan Smith and Kent Martinez-Kratz. So the proposal will appear on the board’s July 10 agenda.

That July 10 meeting will also include action related to the county’s major bonding initiative to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations, including a public hearing. The first public hearing for the potential $345 million bond proposal was held on June 5. It drew four people who all expressed caution about the possible action, with some suggesting a millage or additional budget cuts to cover the retiree obligations instead of bonding.

On June 5, commissioners also set other public hearings for July 10: (1) for two brownfield redevelopment projects in Ann Arbor – at Packard Square (the former Georgetown Mall), and 544 Detroit St.; and (2) for the annexation of industrial property from Scio Township into the village of Dexter. And the July 10 meeting will include final consideration of a strategic space plan for Washtenaw County government facilities totaling about $5 million. The proposals, which got initial approval on June 5, include creating a plan to redevelop the Platt Road site where the old juvenile center was located. The redevelopment might entail a mix of uses, including affordable housing.

A range of other items addressed on June 5 included: (1) creating an historic district for the Jarvis Stone School in Salem Township; (2) an update on the county’s Head Start program, which will be falling under control of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; and (3) resolutions of opposition – one against gun violence and one against the long-range transportation plan of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). The SEMCOG plan calls for expansion of I-94 in Detroit and I-75 in Oakland County. Some commissioners think that funding should be used to repair existing roads and bridges instead. [Full Story]

County Board Debates Trial Court Funding

In a move that appeared to surprise many commissioners and staff, Washtenaw County commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3) formally proposed giving notice to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for the Washtenaw County Trial Court. She made the proposal at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting.

Alicia Ping, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County commissioner Alicia Ping (R-District 3) at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting.

After a lengthy and often heated debate, the board gave initial approval to give notice, but postponed final action until July 10. The approval was on a 5-4 vote.

Unlike other units of county government, which prepare line-item budgets authorized … [Full Story]

County Board OKs State Reimbursements

Several items related to state reimbursements for Washtenaw County units were given initial approval by county commissioners on Sept. 19, 2012. The timing reflects the state’s fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. In contrast, the county works on a calendar-year budget cycle; but many of its units receive significant state funding.

The Washtenaw County Trial Court juvenile division anticipates $4,329,042 in reimbursements from the state child care fund budget. Programs supported by these revenues include family foster care, institutional care and in-home care, according to a staff memo. The trial court’s Friend of the Court program is also seeking reimbursements for “services to residents who are seeking to establish paternity and/or child support orders.” Over a three-year period through Sept. 30, … [Full Story]

22nd Circuit Court Race: Connors, Woodyard

Local and state judicial candidates were the focus of a June 23 forum hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party.

Most of the two-hour session, held at the Pittsfield Township hall, was devoted to two 22nd Circuit Court races. Incumbent judge Tim Connors, who has served in that position since 1997, is being challenged by Mike Woodyard, an Ann Arbor resident and assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County.

Doug Kelley

Doug Kelley, a longtime Ann Arbor Democratic activist and member of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party executive committee, at the June 23 judicial forum in Pittsfield Township. (Photos by the writer.)

There is no incumbent running for another seat on the 22nd Circuit Court – because judge Melinda Morris is ineligible for re-election as she is past the statutory age limit of 70. Four local attorneys are vying for that judgeship: Erane Washington, Doug McClure, Carol Kuhnke and Jim Fink. Coverage of that candidate forum will be provided in a separate Chronicle report.

The four candidates for the open 22nd Circuit Court seat will compete in the Aug. 7 primary to narrow the field. The two candidates in that race who receive the most votes will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

All other local judicial candidates are incumbents who are unchallenged, and will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot: Cedric Simpson (14th District Court, Washtenaw County); Joe Burke (15th District Court, Ann Arbor); and Darlene O’Brien (probate court, Washtenaw County). They did not take part in the June 23 forum. These non-partisan judicial races are for six-year terms.

At the state level, candidates for Michigan Supreme Court are also on a non-partisan ballot, but they are nominated by political parties. Three positions on the seven-member court will be contested on Nov. 6, currently held by Democrat Marilyn Kelly and Republicans Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra, whose eight-year terms end on Jan. 1, 2013. Kelly is not seeking re-election because she’ll be past the age of 70. Markman and Zahra are running as incumbents, and the third GOP candidate will be selected at a state Republican convention in September.

In March, the state Democratic Party endorsed three candidates for Michigan Supreme Court: 46th District Court judge Shelia Johnson, Wayne County Circuit Court judge Connie Marie Kelley, and University of Michigan law professor Bridget Mary McCormack of Ann Arbor.

Of the three, only Johnson, a Southfield resident, attended the June 23 forum, telling the crowd of about 50 people that this year’s Michigan Supreme Court race is an historic election, and a chance to reverse the court’s current 4-3 majority. It’s the most important race on the ballot, she said, because the court’s decisions – from reproductive rights to environmental protection to emergency managers – affect everyone’s lives.

This article includes Johnson’s presentation at the June 23 forum, but begins with a report of the first 22nd Circuit Court race between Tim Connors and Mike Woodyard. [Full Story]

County Preps for More Restructuring

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 2, 2012): Commissioners got a preview from county administrator Verna McDaniel about plans for more restructuring of Washtenaw County operations, in the wake of 117 retirements at the end of 2011 and an ongoing need to cut costs.

Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel. (Photos by the writer)

McDaniel is asking departments to explore a “continuum of opportunities,” from cooperation on one end of the spectrum, to consolidation on the other end. As an example, she noted that the recent 911 dispatch consolidation between the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – an agreement at the county board approved at its Jan. 18, 2012 meeting – began as cooperation, when county dispatchers co-located with Ann Arbor’s operations.

As an initial step, at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting McDaniel will be asking for approval to restructure support services in administration, finance, information technology and facilities management. The changes entail creating a new “cross-lateral” team of four current senior managers, and putting two positions – including the job of deputy county administrator – on “hold vacant” status. Another nine positions will be eliminated, while eight jobs will be created. The restructuring will result in a net reduction of three full-time jobs, and estimated annual savings of $326,422.

Commissioners were generally supportive of her proposal, though some cautioned against creating the expectation that the county can provide the same or a better level of services with reduced resources. The county is facing projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Also at the Feb. 2 working session, board chair Conan Smith gave an update on negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, saying he hopes to bring an agreement for board approval at their Feb. 15 meeting. The contract would cover animal control services for the remainder of 2012, with the intent of working toward a longer-term agreement for the coming years. The county plans to ask local municipalities that have animal control ordinances – including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township – to help pay for services provided under contract with HSHV.

The board also got a brief update on the $1.3 million in renovations at the downtown county courthouse. The project, which started early last year when Ann Arbor’s 15th District Court vacated the courthouse to move to the city’s new Justice Center, will be wrapping up in mid-March.

The working session included an agenda briefing for the Feb. 15 meeting, but some commissioners expressed discontent at the new format, which had been implemented earlier this year. Wes Prater suggested that if the briefings do not include time for commissioners to ask questions, then the information might as well be emailed to them instead. “I believe all of us can read,” he said.

[Full Story]

Trial Court Renovation Funding Approved

At its July 6, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved a resolution that would authorize up to $1 million for the next phase of the Washtenaw County trial court consolidation of services at the downtown courthouse facility, where the juvenile court recently relocated.

Phase two entails renovation of the first floor of the courthouse. Commissioners had previously received a detailed briefing on this project from Donald Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenew County trial court, at their Jan. 19, 2011 board meeting. The downtown courthouse is located at the corner of Huron and Main.

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

Washtenaw Board Previews Consolidations

Washtenaw County board of commissioners briefing (June 28, 2011): At a briefing this week to preview agendas for their July 6 meeting and July 7 working session, county commissioners focused most of their questions and comments on a proposed departmental merger and trial court consolidation.

Ronnie Peterson Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, and county administrator Verna McDaniel before the start of the chair's briefing on Tuesday, to preview agendas for the July 6 board meeting and July 7 working session. (Photo by the writer.)

Generating significant conversation was an item on the planned consolidation of three departments: The office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. Commissioners wanted clarification on the status of the employee count listed out on the agenda: 11 positions eliminated, 3 jobs created, 20 reclassifications, 5 title changes and 1 position held vacant. County administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that while that seems like an extensive set of changes, in terms of people, all but one person had been given a “soft landing” within the county’s organization.

Another item that generated interest among commissioners was the second phase of the trial court consolidation project. Phase two will renovate the first floor of the downtown Ann Arbor courthouse to consolidate some trial court operations, as part of a restructuring that included moving the juvenile court from its Platt Road location earlier this year to the courthouse at Main & Huron. The consolidation was made possible in part due to the relocation of the 15th District Court from the downtown courthouse to the city of Ann Arbor’s new municipal center at Fifth & Huron. Commissioner conversation centered around the purview of the board’s space committee (consisting of Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Rob Turner) in connection with the future of the Platt Road building.

The board’s July 7 working session agenda led to an extended conversation about prioritization of the three items listed: (1) the split of the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO) from Washtenaw County; (2) the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority; and (3) the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Chair of the working session, Yousef Rabhi, did not attend Tuesday’s briefing, but with the consent of the working session’s vice chair, Rob Turner, the order to the agenda items was revised to put the WCHO item last. The rationale was to allow an open-ended time for adequate discussion – commissioner Ronnie Peterson figured he might need at least an hour for discussion on that item alone.

The presentation that commissioners will hear on the skatepark is likely to be similar to the one presented by Friends of the Skatepark at the Ann Arbor city council’s June 20 meeting.

Tuesday’s “chair’s briefing” was in a format similar to administrative briefings used in the past to preview upcoming adendas. Those administrative briefings were abandoned due to concerns expressed by some commissioners about accessibility. The June 28 briefing was conducted in the county boardroom and was video-recorded. It was the second in a series of three such briefings scheduled for the summer – the next one takes place on July 26, starting at 4 p.m., to prep for the Aug. 3 board meeting. [Full Story]

Trial Court Agreement Gets Final OK

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners, at its Feb. 16, 2011 meeting, gave final approval to a memorandum of understanding with the Washtenaw Trial Court, outlining the rights and responsibilities of each unit of government. Initial approval was given at the board’s Jan. 19, 2011 meeting. A previous MOU expired in December 2010. As part of the agreement, the county will fund operations of the trial court in four “lump sums,” allocated separately to: (1) the 22nd Circuit Court (including circuit court administration, juvenile-general fund, friend of the court and community corrections); (2) Probate Court (estates & mental health); (3) 14-A District Court; and (4) the child care fund. The county will not have line-item budgeting authority, but the trial court has agreed to submit a bi-annual line-item budget, and provide quarterly financial projections. The amount of the lump sum payments has not yet been determined.

This brief was filed from the county board meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

“State of the County” Tackles $20M Deficit

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 19, 2011): Commissioners got a sober report from the county’s top administrator on Wednesday, providing a preliminary budget forecast for 2012 and 2013 that anticipates a $20.89 million deficit.

Verna McDaniel

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County administrator, gave a State of the County address during the Jan. 19, 2011 meeting of the board of commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

In her State of the County report, Verna McDaniel outlined areas to target in addressing the two-year shortfall: (1) $1 million in cuts to “outside agencies,” including nonprofits supported by the county; (2) $8.5 million in cuts to employee compensation and benefits; and (3) $8.5 million from organizational changes. She’s also looking to generate $2 million in additional revenue, in part by making sure fees charged by the county are set at “appropriate” levels.

Also related to the budget, commissioners approved agreements with two unions – the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) – that are expected to save a total of $5.6 million over a four-year period. Those savings are already factored in to the budget forecast, and do not serve to lower the projected deficit.

The board also got an update from Donald Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenew County Trial Court, who reviewed changes to the downtown Ann Arbor courthouse – including renovations to accommodate the county’s juvenile court, which is vacating its Platt Road facility later this year. The restructuring also entails merging all trial court clerk services into a “one-stop” operation at the courthouse. These changes come in the wake of the 15th District Court‘s move last weekend from the county courthouse to the city’s new municipal center at Huron and Fifth.

Court staff is working with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to address parking needs – DDA executive director Susan Pollay told The Chronicle that several options are being explored, including possible changes to the county-owned surface parking lot at Main and Ann streets.

After Shelton’s update, the board approved a renewed memorandum of understanding with the trial court, outlining the rights and responsibilities of each unit of government. The MOU calls for the county to fund the court through a “lump sum” agreement – the specific dollar amount hasn’t yet been determined. The MOU was approved unanimously with no discussion, though the topic had spurred debate at the board’s Jan. 12 administrative briefing. The debate stems in part from philosophical differences over how to fund the court.

In other business, commissioners approved a raft of committee appointments, and signed off on hiring a “cost recovery” firm who’ll review the county’s vendor contracts and suggest options for savings. And in an atypical occurrence, no one spoke during public commentary at Wednesday’s meeting. [Full Story]