Stories indexed with the term ‘Washtenaw County’

Circuit Court Race: Conlin, Woodyard, Liem

On July 7, 2014, three candidates vying to fill a vacancy on Washtenaw’s 22nd circuit court participated in a League of Women Voters forum.

Candidates for the circuit court judgeship from left: Michael Woodyard, Veronique Liem, Pat Conlin.

Candidates for the circuit court judgeship from left: Michael Woodyard, Veronique Liem, Pat Conlin.

Pat Conlin, Veronique Liem and Michael Woodyard will compete in the nonpartisan Aug. 5 primary, which will advance the top two candidates to the Nov. 4 general election. The winner of that contest will fill the open seat left by judge Donald Shelton, who turned 70 in June. According to Michigan state law, only a person under the age of 70 can be appointed or run for the position of judge.

The circuit court tries felonies and criminal matters, family law, and civil disputes where claims are greater than $25,000. However, the docket for this particular seat on the circuit court is heavily weighted toward family cases.

Conlin and Liem are local attorneys, while Woodyard works in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. At the July 7 forum, the candidates fielded questions covered topics including: family, the visibility of the court and general judicial philosophy.

A second seat on the court is also up for election, as judge David Swartz is at the end of a six-year term. He is running uncontested to retain his 22nd circuit court incumbent seat.

On its website, the LWV has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [22nd circuit court candidate responses]

At the July 7 LWV 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 after asking for public submissions.

Candidates’ remarks are summarized below. To view the recorded video from the 22nd circuit court LWV forum, use Community Television Network’s video on demand.  [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Animal Control Deal

A $135,570 agreement on animal control services – between the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County – has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. Action came at the council’s July 7, 2014 meeting.

Background to the city’s agreement includes a long process of discussions and negotiations between Washtenaw County and the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) – a conversation that began in 2011 when the amount of funding provided to HSHV was under scrutiny. A task force was appointed, and ultimately the county board of commissioners, at its Nov. 7, 2012 meeting, authorized contracting with HSHV for $500,000 a year for animal control services. [.pdf of contract between Washtenaw County and HSHV]

Recommended as part … [Full Story]

Housing Needs Study OK’d by DDA

Out of a $150,000 cost for a housing needs assessment in Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be paying $37,500. Action by the DDA board approving the grant came at its June 4, 2014 meeting.

The firm selected by the county’s office of community and economic development (OCED) to do the needs assessment is czb LLC out of Virginia. [.pdf of RFP for the needs assessment] The current needs assessment will update a report done in 2007. According to a memo from OCED staff to the DDA, the final report will “provide a clear, easy to understand assessment of the local housing market, identify current and future housing needs, and provide specific and implementable policy recommendations … [Full Story]

S&P Upgrades County Bond Rating

Washtenaw County has received an upgraded bond rating from Standard & Poor’s – from AA+ to AAA, the highest debt rating from that agency. Only two other counties in Michigan – Oakland and Kent – have a triple-A rating. County administrator Verna McDaniel announced the news on May 22. [.pdf of press release] In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.

In an email to the media sent a few minutes after the press release was issued, commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 9) questioned the value of the upgraded rating:
This is a solid testament to the county’s investments in its institutional security, but I think the real story is at what cost this incremental improvement came. … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA OKs $300K for County Annex

Washtenaw County will be receiving $300,000 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority as a result of DDA board action taken at its Sept. 4, 2013 meeting.

The resolution approved by the DDA board on a unanimous vote states that the money will support renovations to the building at 110 N. Fourth in Ann Arbor (known as the Annex) so that it can house the county’s Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) department. [.pdf of DDA resolution on Annex] The cost of the renovations at the Annex, which would include a new lobby and “client interaction” space, would be about $1 million, according to the DDA board resolution.

CSTS provides a variety of client services to individuals with mental illness, developmental disabilities and … [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Local Investing

A  20-question survey by the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development (OCED) is part of an effort to help identify ”creative opportunities for growing our local economy and utilizing community capital.” Questions include “Have you ever contributed to a crowdfunding campaign?” and “What would you need to know or have in order to be comfortable investing locally?” [Source]

In the Archives: Diary of a Farm Girl

Soaring over Washtenaw County’s Superior Township on Google Maps gives the illusion of eagle-eyed omniscience. The plat map book lying open next to the computer shows that the meticulously-drawn maps of 19th-century farms correspond in good measure to the present-day brown and green patches on the screen.

This group of 19th-century schoolchildren from Morgan School may give a general idea of Mamie's Fowler School class size.

This group of 19th-century schoolchildren from Morgan School may give a general idea of Mamie Vought’s Fowler School class size.

Look – there are the outlines of the old Philip Vought farm on Ridge Road in eastern Superior Township. A fleeting sense of connection dissolves with the realization that the outline is only that – the chance to understand the lives of onetime residents is gone.

Would I have enjoyed growing up on the Vought farm?

What did a typical day involve?

How foreign and slow would a childhood be – measured not in miles per gallon but in wagon rides and footsteps?

Thirteen-year-old Mamie Vought left us her 1886 diary to let us know. [Full Story]

Privatizing Public Services: A Good Thing?

A recent forum on privatization, organized by the local League of Women Voters, brought together four elected officials and one former administrator to share their experiences and opinions on the issue.

Bob Guenzel, Sabra Briere

Former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) were among five panelists at a Feb. 27 forum on privatization. The event was organized by the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor area and held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. (Photos by the writer.)

The membership of the national League of Women Voters is studying the issue of privatization, with the eventual goal of developing a position statement, based in part on feedback from local leagues. Susan Greenberg, who moderated the Feb. 27 panel in Ann Arbor, said they’ll be looking at the factors that governments use to determine which services are privatized, the policy issues that are considered, how privatization impacts a community, and what strategies are used to ensure transparency and accountability.

Panelists all had experience in public sector leadership: Lois Richardson, Ypsilanti city councilmember and mayor pro tem; Bob Guenzel, former Washtenaw County administrator; Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor city councilmember; Andy Fanta, Ypsilanti public schools board member; and Susan Baskett, Ann Arbor public schools board member.

Panelists gave examples of how privatization is being used locally – such as curbside recycling in Ann Arbor and garbage pick-up in Ypsilanti – but generally expressed caution about the practice. Fanta was less circumspect, describing privatization as capitalism eating its entrails. [All of the four elected officials are Democrats.]

The forum also included time for questions from the audience. Topics ranged from the impact of Proposal A – which shifted control of funding for K-12 schools from local communities to the state – to comments about national funding priorities.

The event was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. A videotape of the panel will be posted on the AADL website. [Full Story]

DDA to County: Levy Econ Dev Tax

At its Sept. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board passed a resolution urging the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to use Act 88 of 1913 to levy a tax to support economic development in the county. A public hearing on the tax is scheduled for the county board’s meeting tonight.

At its Aug. 15 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a similar measure urging county commissioners to levy the tax.

For the last two years, the county board has levied the tax – at a rate of 0.043 mill. (One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.) Because Act 88 predates the state’s Headlee legislation, the county board does not need to put the issue before voters … [Full Story]

Low-Income Health Initiative In the Works

In a news conference held Thursday morning, organizers of a new countywide health care initiative described plans to expand coverage for Washtenaw County’s low-income residents. The plan is intended to help local health care providers handle an influx of an estimated 50,000 newly insured patients when federal health care reforms take effect in 2014.

The goal is to develop a plan to provide better health care for the county’s low-income residents, the uninsured and people on Medicaid – prior to changes that will be mandated by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI) is a collaboration led by retired Saint Joseph Mercy Health System chief executive officer Bob Laverty, former county administrator Bob Guenzel, and retired … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?

At a recent Saturday morning forum held for city of Ann Arbor Democratic Party city council candidates, participants were asked by the moderator to characterize the relationship between the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. None of their responses highlighted some parade examples of existing collaboration between the two governmental units: a combined city/county office of community development; and a shared data center with a shared full-time position to manage it.

Washtenaw County sheriff's office dispatcher

A Washtenaw County 911 dispatcher. Ann Arbor and county dispatch operations are currently co-located at Ann Arbor’s Fire Station #1 on Fifth Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.)

Also not cited as an example of possible future city/county collaboration was police dispatching. However, the topic did at least receive a passing mention by Ward 3 incumbent Stephen Kunselman, who told the audience that his grandmother was a police dispatcher in the late 1950s for the East Ann Arbor police department.

A recent city press release – sent out the Wednesday before the June 11 candidate forum – described a renewed effort to consolidate Ann Arbor’s 911 police dispatch functions with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

So The Chronicle sat down with Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton to walk through the possible consolidation, under which the city would contract with the county for dispatch service. Based on that interview, it’s clear that it’s not just talk.

The city and county dispatchers are already working in the same building in the same room –  on the second floor of Fire Station #1, across Fifth Avenue from the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron. Clayton has developed a staffing model for implementation. And over the next few weeks, Jones will be sitting down with the police officers union – dispatchers are members – to discuss the proposal. Jones said that from the standpoint of collective bargaining, a consolidated dispatch operation could not be blocked by the union.

But Jones and Clayton will not have the final say. That decision will be made by the Ann Arbor city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. [Full Story]

Photos: Two Barns, One Gets Second Life

Last fall, architect Chuck Bultman wrote a remarkable piece for The Chronicle about the preservation of barns. Near the end of that article, Bultman describes a pair of barns on Scio Church Road, west of Zeeb. And he speculates that they might have been built around the same time.

Scio Church Two Barns

Scio Church Road: Two Barns (Images by Chuck Bultman, link to higher resolution file.)

Bultman also wrote that he’d noticed a hole in the roof of one of the barns: “So I tried to reach the owners to let them know that their asset is at risk. And so far, I have not heard back – maybe something is being planned and workers are lining up to repair it or salvage it, but I do not know, and it is not for me to decide.”

But over the spring, a decision was made – which a week ago led to a Friday evening gathering of Bultman’s friends and associates at the site of those barns. One of the barns stood with its siding removed, its frame laid bare. Wrote Bultman in an email to me: “It is our plan to toast this barn’s first life, and consider its second.”

Its second life will begin in the Pittsburgh area, where Bultman will help transform the re-assembled timbers into a home for one of his clients. The disassembly of the frame and restoration of the wood will be handled by Rudy Christian and his wife Laura, whose shop is in Burbank, Ohio.

Although Bultman had speculated that the two barns on the property were built at the same time, Christian estimated that the barn he’s dismantling dates to the 1830s, while the other one is post-Civil War.

Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan and I took a break from writing about local government to join Chuck on that Friday, and documented the occasion with some photos. [Full Story]

Washtneaw 2011 Millage Rate

At its May 18, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave initial approval to establish the 2011 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. Several other county millages – including those for parks & recreation, emergency communications and the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority – are levied separately, bringing the total county millage rate to 5.6768 mills.

Final approval is expected at the board’s June 1 meeting. A public hearing on the millage rates will also be held at that time.

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.


Deputy County Admin on Medical Leave

Bill Reynolds, Washtenaw County’s deputy administrator, has been on medical leave from his job since April 8, and is expected to be out for at least the next few months. County administrator Verna McDaniel included the news in her May 9 monthly newsletter.

Reynolds’ paid leave is related to post-military issues. In his most recent military experience, Reynolds was deployed to Iraq in 2004 with a Marine Corps reserve unit, and was a senior officer leading civil/military operations in Al Anbar province. Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, said that Reynolds is expected back on the job after he returns from medical leave.

Kelly Belknap, the county’s finance director, has been named interim deputy administrator, and was introduced with that title at a May 5, 2011 board working session. Pete Collinson, finance accounting manager, is now interim finance director – a role he held for several months following the retirement of Pete Ballios in 2009.

Reynolds has been on the job just under a year – the county board of commissioners approved his hire at their June 2010 meeting, and he started work on June 21, 2010, with a salary of $138,000. Reynolds was the first hire of McDaniel, who was deputy administrator under Bob Guenzel. Guenzel retired as county administrator in May 2010, and the board of commissioners promoted McDaniel into that job. Before coming to Washtenaw County, Reynolds was the administrator for Chippewa County, Wisc.

[Full Story]

County OKs IT Deal with Ann Arbor, AATA

At its May 4, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave initial approval of an interagency agreement with the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), allowing the three entities to collaborate on technology services. The goal is to reduce costs, enhance services and increase technology sustainability for the county, city and AATA, with structural savings expected to begin in 2012. The Ann Arbor city council approved its part of the deal at its May 2 meeting.

The board’s approval also includes the extension, through 2015, of the contract for a network manager job that’s shared between the county and city. That contract, first signed in 2008, expires in June of 2011. The two entities save about $78,000 $81,577 annually because of the shared position. Also approved was a lease extension through 2015 for shared data center space – that lease is set to expire in 2013.

In addition, the board gave initial approval to share costs with the city for a deal with the firm EMC, paying for storage area network and backup services. The county now pays $387,924 annually for these services, and would expect to save $212,000 annually by sharing costs with the city. The deal would also allow the county to increase storage capacity, giving it the ability for future potential technology collaborations with other local units of government and community partners.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Public Gives Input on County Redistricting

About a dozen people attended Saturday’s public hearing to give input on redrawing districts of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The meeting was held at the Ypsilanti Township hall, and was the second of three public hearings scheduled by the county apportionment commission, a five-member group charged with adopting a redistricting plan based on 2010 census data.

Cleveland Chandler, Catherine McClary, Mark Boonstra

Three members of the Washtenaw County apportionment commission, which is tasked with redrawing districts for the county board of commissioners based on 2010 census data. From left: Cleveland Chandler, Washtenaw County Democratic Party chair; county treasurer Catherine McClary; and Mark Boonstra, Washtenaw County Republican Committee chair. Other members are county clerk Larry Kestenbaum and Brian Mackie, the county's prosecuting attorney. (Photos by the writer.)

Eight people addressed the commission during the hearing, which lasted about an hour. Some argued for a reduction in the current 11 districts, saying it would save costs and make for a better functioning board. Others suggested keeping the same number or increasing the number of districts slightly, for better representation.

It’s likely there will be some changes of district lines, even if the number of districts remains the same. The county’s population grew 6.8%, from 322,895 people in 2000 to 344,791 people in 2010, with some parts showing dramatic population shifts. Ypsilanti’s population decreased 12.6%, while several townships – including Saline, Scio and Webster – saw double-digit growth. The city of Ann Arbor accounts for about a third of the county’s population – its population dropped 0.6% to 113,934. [.pdf file of population data for Washtenaw County]

Commission members indicated that they haven’t yet completed any redistricting proposals, though Larry Kestenbaum – the county clerk and chair of the apportionment commission – said he’s developing one for 12 districts. One speaker at the hearing expressed disappointment that proposals weren’t yet available, saying he had hoped to give feedback on specific redistricting plans.

The apportionment commission met for the first time on March 31, when members set a schedule for the process. Its members, determined by state statute, are: The county clerk (Larry Kestenbaum), county treasurer (Catherine McClary), county prosecuting attorney (Brian Mackie), and the chairs of both the county Republican and Democratic parties (Mark Boonstra and Cleveland Chandler). All but Boonstra are Democrats.

Saturday’s public hearing had a lower turnout than the first hearing, which took place on April 9 at the Pittsfield Township hall – 16 people addressed the commission then, according to draft minutes of the meeting.

The next public hearing is set for Thursday, April 21 at 5:30 p.m. at Webster Township hall, 5665 Webster Church Road. A week later, on April 28, the commission meets again and is expected to present redistricting plans and possibly select one. That meeting, which will include time for public commentary, begins at 5:30 p.m. at the county administration building’s lower-level conference room, 200 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Supports Applications to MDNRE

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to approve three grant applications to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE). For two of the grants – for improvements to the Gallup livery and park and for the proposed skatepark at Veteran’s Memorial Park –  the city is applying to MDNRE’s Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. For the third grant, the city is applying to MDNRE’s Waterway Grant-in-Aid to upgrade the boat launches at Gallup and Argo parks. The city’s park advisory commission recommended approval of the applications at its most recent meeting. ["PAC Supports Grants for Skatepark, Gallup"]

An amendment offered by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) prioritized the skatepark project over the Gallup renovations – based on the opportunity to leverage $400,000 of matching funds from the county, which will soon expire.

At the same meeting, the city council also acted on a recommendation from Ann Arbor’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) to send a letter of support for an application from Washtenaw County to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Through its natural areas preservation program, the county hopes to secure matching funds from the state to help purchase a parcel in Ann Arbor Township now owned by a subsidiary of Domino’s Farms.

At its most recent meeting, GAC had recommended that the city council consider a letter of support, after Hohnke, the council’s representative to GAC, had cautioned against GAC’s sending such a letter letter before confirming that the county’s application would not dilute the city’s own chances to win grant funding. [Chronicle coverage: "Greenbelt, County Look to Partner on Farms"]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow:[link] [Full Story]

Lansing View: Concrete Talk With Jeff Irwin

Editor’s note: After 11 years of service on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Democrat Jeff Irwin was elected by voters of District 53 to serve as their representative in the Michigan House of Representatives. The district covers most of Ann Arbor, plus parts of Scio, Pittsfield and Ann Arbor townships.

Jeff Irwin

Jeff Irwin, representative for District 53 of the Michigan state House of Representatives, met with constituents at Espresso Royale in downtown Ann Arbor last Saturday. (Photos by the writer.)

In each of the first two months of his term, Irwin has held meetings for constituents in local Ann Arbor coffee houses – Cafe Verde and Espresso Royale. On Saturday, Feb. 26, The Chronicle caught up with Irwin after his talk with constituents and spoke with him for about an hour. The conversation included a discussion of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget overview. [.pdf of budget overview]

In presenting the interview below, The Chronicle’s conversation with Irwin has been reorganized and edited in some places to achieve greater coherence and focus.

Last Saturday, Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53rd District) entertained questions and concerns from constituents on a variety of topics, including local interest in the future use of the top of the underground parking structure, which is under construction on the city-owned Library Lot between Fifth and Division streets.

Three blocks east from Irwin’s conversation with constituents, a constant parade of concrete mixers on Division Street headed south across Liberty to the east edge of the Library Lot construction site. They dumped their loads into a pump, and through the course of the day, workers poured around 6,300 cubic yards of concrete. Coincidentally, in his subsequent conversation with The Chronicle, Irwin introduced images involving concrete and construction – he was drawing an analogy between teacher contracts and construction contracts.

We’ve chronicled this conversation in a Q&A format, divided into seven sections: (1) a budget bright spot in Medicaid; (2) education as an area of concern; (3) a lack of sufficient, specific goals associated with the budget; (4) labor relations in general; (5) labor relations in Washtenaw County; (6) Irwin’s relationship with former fellow county commissioner Mark Ouimet, a Republican who’s also now a state rep; and (7) a partisan imbalance in committee appointments. [Full Story]

County OKs New Veterans Relief Job

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners, at their Feb. 16, 2011 meeting, gave initial approval to create a new full-time position – a veterans relief program specialist – as part of a minor restructuring in the county’s veterans affairs department that includes downgrading an administrative assistant position to office coordinator. The moves are expected to result in about $20,000 in structural savings for the department. The board will likely take a final vote at its March 2 meeting.

The new position is estimated to cost $75,000 and will be funded from the Veterans Relief Fund, which gets proceeds from a dedicated millage and has a fund balance of $250,000. The job will entail coordinating the county’s veterans relief efforts and doing public outreach activities.

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

Local Concealed Weapons Permits Increasing

Washtenaw County is on pace to set another new record for applications for “concealed-carry” weapons (CCW) permits.

Sign in Washtenaw County administration building

A sign in the Washtenaw County administration building directs residents who want to apply for a concealed weapons license.

Whether more adults legally able to carry guns enhances or erodes public safety is a matter of debate. What’s not in doubt is that more community members want the option: A member of about 1 in every 20 households in the county now holds a permit.

The number climbed in late 2008 and 2009 as people across the U.S. acted on concerns that Democratic leadership in Washington might promote restrictions on firearms, according to law enforcement officials.

The upward trend has continued in Washtenaw County, fueled – according to gun-rights sympathizers – by continuing worry about potential legislative restrictions, along with concerns about crime and shrinking public-safety budgets.

So far this year, 1,019 county residents have applied for permits. If that rate continues, the county would see a more than 20% increase over 2009’s record-setting 2,255 applications.

“It’s amazing,” says retired Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy Ernie Milligan, who chairs the county’s concealed weapons licensing board, which held its monthly meeting this week. “In the past year or so, I’ve started to see roadside signs advertising CCW classes. That may help fuel it, but there’s a fear factor, too.”

Under legislation that liberalized Michigan’s gun laws in 2001, state residents 21 and older who complete a safety course can apply for a permit to carry concealed weapons. Criminal convictions and mental-health problems can disqualify applicants. But unlike the “may-issue” law it replaced, the 2001 “shall-issue” law leaves local gun licensing boards with little room for subjectivity. For the most part, an application yields a permit.

In 2010, 983 permits have been issued so far in Washtenaw County. Seven applications were denied. [Full Story]

“Urban County” Allocates Housing Funds

At their March 23 meeting, members of the Washtenaw Urban County – a consortium of 11 local municipalities that handles federal grants for low-income housing and other projects – approved over $2.6 million in allocations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.

Margie Teall, Leah Gunn, Mary Jo Callan, Damon Thompson

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Office of Community Development, discusses proposed funding for housing projects at the Washtenaw Urban County meeting on Tuesday. At left are Ann Arbor city councilmember Margie Teall and county commissioner Leah Gunn, who chairs the Urban County executive committee. At right is Damon Thompson, OCD's operations manager. (Photos by the writer.)

The group also had a frank discussion about problems with struggling Gateway Apartments in Ypsilanti Township – the complex is operating at a loss and is putting strains on the nonprofit Avalon Housing, which took over management from the nearly-defunct Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp.

In addition, Urban County members reallocated federal funds that had previously been earmarked to support a county land bank. The county’s board of commissioners voted to dissolve the land bank earlier this month.

Also approved during Tuesday’s meeting was the draft of an annual plan for July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. The plan outlines projects and a nearly $4 million budget from two federal programs for low-income neighborhoods. Avalon Housing’s Near North apartment complex, the Delonis Center homeless shelter, and an owner-occupied housing rehab program are among the projects being funded.

Staff of the Office of Community Development, a joint county/city of Ann Arbor department which among other things manages the Urban County projects, also reported on efforts to recruit more local governments to join the Urban County. OCD director Mary Jo Callan joked that there were two perception problems in marketing the Urban County: urban and county. [Full Story]

Dog Watch: Humane Society Bond

On March 17, in a small conference room at the Washtenaw County administration building, Carolyn Raschke, finance director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, reported to an even smaller group of Washtenaw County officials.

Washtenaw County Humane Society Oversight Committee meeting. Starting with the conference call phone and going clockwise: county administrator Bob Guenzel (who joined the meeting via phone, because he was getting a tour of the jail); Mechelle Hardy, management assistant with the county; Peter Ballios, the county's recently retired finance director; Bob Martel, acting as construction manager for HSHV; Carolyn Raschke, finance director of HSHV; Curtis Hedger, corporation counsel for the county.

The HSHV had held a grand opening for its new animal shelter the previous week. Raschke said the recent warmer weather had started to bring visitors out “in droves” to the shelter, and that the shelter had promoted the grand opening as a “celebration.” She reported that the promotion included discounts on adoption fees for animals at the shelter. Also part of the grand opening, said Raschke, was an invitation-only reception for the larger donors to the shelter’s fundraising campaign.

The meeting lasted a little more than five minutes – probably a record for the shortest public meeting of any The Chronicle has covered.

So what was the point of that meeting between Raschke and county officials?

It was the regular gathering of the county’s oversight committee for the Humane Society. The body exists only because of the bonds the county issued in 2007 to finance construction of the HSHV’s new shelter. The structure of the bonding has no impact on the county’s pocketbook, but included the creation of the oversight committee as a way for the county to maintain a kind of “leash” on the money it had backed with its full faith and credit.

The county’s connection to HSHV is not philanthropically based. The county has a contract with the nonprofit, worth $500,000 in FY 2010, to house stray dogs picked up by sheriff’s deputies. That contract satisfies the county’s statutory obligations under the Dog Law of 1919. [Full Story]

County EDC: Money to Loan, But No Deals

Washtenaw County Economic Development Corporation board meeting (March 15, 2010): On Monday, the EDC board met for just the second time since 2005. On the agenda: A discussion about the availability of federal bonds that have been allocated to Washtenaw County, but not used, for projects by private firms.

Though federal legislation expanded the types of businesses that can use the bonds, a national credit crunch has essentially slowed potential deals to a halt. “We await the projects,” said John Axe, the EDC’s bond counsel. Unless extended by Congress, the program expires at the end of 2010. [Full Story]

Changes Ahead for Workforce Development

Trenda Rusher, head of Washtenaw County's Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department.

Trenda Rusher, head of Washtenaw County's Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, led a joint meeting of the Workforce Development and Community Action boards on Monday. (Photos by the writer.)

The Washtenaw County department that Trenda Rusher supervises is undergoing transition, and not just because the long-time workforce development manager is retiring.

At Monday’s annual joint meeting of the two boards that oversee the county’s Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, Rusher spoke of several other changes – from the dramatic growth of revenues, thanks to federal stimulus dollars, to the equally dramatic increase in demand for services, due to Michigan’s economic plight and the implosion of the auto industry.

And as Rusher departs – after nearly three decades with the county, she’s heading to Washington, D.C. to start her own consulting business and to be near her twin daughters – the new county administrator will be looking at possibly reorganizing the operations that serve as a conduit for millions of federal, state and local dollars.

Verna McDaniel, the deputy county administrator who’s expected to replace retiring administrator Bob Guenzel, spoke to ETCS staff and members of both boards on Monday, saying “we will be looking at all options.” No decisions have been made – a planning team will be meeting to lay out a strategy for evaluating what’s next, she said. [Full Story]

More Leadership Changes Ahead for County

Trenda Rusher talks with Aaron Kraft at an April 15, 2009 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Trenda Rusher talks with Aaron Kraft at an April 15, 2009 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Rusher will be stepping down from her job as executive director of the Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department.

As the search gets under way to replace Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County’s top administrator, two other high-level staff members have announced their retirements.

Trenda Rusher, who has worked for the county for 26 years, is stepping down as executive director of the Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, which serves as the local agency for the state’s Michigan Works! workforce development program. Finance director Peter Ballios will be retiring after 38 years with the county.

Both moves were announced Tuesday morning in an email sent to county commissioners and department heads. Neither Rusher nor Ballios could be reached by The Chronicle for comment.

On Tuesday morning at a joint meeting of the soon-to-merge Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti chambers of commerce, Guenzel told The Chronicle that the county would be conducting a search to replace Ballios. However, at this point they won’t be doing the same for Rusher’s position. Instead, county leaders will be looking at possibly reorganizing the operations that she supervises, he said. [Full Story]

County Administrator Guenzel to Retire

Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County administrator, plans to retire in May of 2010.

Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County administrator, plans to retire in May of 2010. (Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County.)

Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County’s top administrator and the leader of a wide range of community initiatives, is retiring after 37 years with the county. He informed the board of commissioners on Thursday – the day after the board passed the 2010/2011 county budget – and told the county’s department heads on Friday morning. His last day will likely be May 14.

“It’s been a great run,” Guenzel told The Chronicle.

Guenzel, who turned 68 last month, has indicated an intention to retire for some time, but said he had wanted to see the organization through its difficult two-year budget cycle before setting a definitive date to step down. With tax revenues falling because of a sharp drop in property values, the county faced a projected $30 million deficit over the next two years. While the budget that was passed on Wednesday is balanced, already it’s likely the county will need to make more cuts in early 2010.

The position of county administrator is appointed by the board of commissioners – Guenzel has served in that role since 1994, and for 22 years before that served as the county’s corporation counsel. Board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. couldn’t be reached for comment about the upcoming transition and search for a new administrator. Vice chair Mark Ouimet said commissioners hadn’t yet had the chance to discuss it. [Full Story]

Column: Limited Edition

In my favorite movie “Animal House,” John Belushi delivers a classic line: “Over? Nothing is over until we say it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no, and it ain’t over now!”

With the same level of determination and a lot more smarts, 700 members of AFSCME Local 2733 and members of six other smaller bargaining units gave back contract benefits totaling about $6.6 million to help reduce Washtenaw County’s projected 2010-11 budget deficit. I have lived in Ann Arbor 49 years and do not recall a similar circumstance. Were county services over? Were the jobs of up to 150 union members over? The Locals said “Hell, no.”

It was a big deal. [Full Story]

Column: Limited Edition

Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel has done about as much as he can do. He has presented and updated the county’s projected 2010-2011 deficit over and over the last six months – best case scenario, worst case scenario, and everything in between. So what are the options? There are few. [Full Story]

County’s No. 2 Administrator Resigns

David Behen, right, talks with Gene DeRossett before Thursdays working session of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

David Behen, right, talks with Gene DeRossett before Thursday's working session of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

David Behen, one of Washtenaw County’s two deputy county administrators, has resigned and will leave his job at the end of May. Washtenaw County commissioners and department heads were informed of the decision in an email sent Thursday morning from county administrator Bob Guenzel. In that email, Guenzel stated that he does not plan to fill the position after Behen’s departure.

The county is struggling to balance its budget in the wake of declining revenues and a projected $26 million deficit over the next two years. Behen’s salary is $144,000 – the total compensation for that position, including benefits, is roughly $200,000.

Behen told The Chronicle that it was his decision to leave and that he has other opportunities. “Maybe by me leaving, I save someone else’s job,” he said. He said he’s been contemplating the decision for a while. [Full Story]

Wiki Wednesday: Washtenaw Boards

Arbor Wiki

It’s Wiki Wednesday again, an occasional series in which The Chronicle reminds readers of the online encyclopedia, ArborWiki, to which they can contribute their knowledge of the community. On Wiki Wednesdays we try to offer a clear path for contribution to ArborWiki.

After featuring city boards and commissions recently, we offer equal time this week to county boards and commissions. The county maintains a membership lists on a directory of boards, committees and commissions, and external agencies to which the board appoints representatives. The directory is searchable by name and by date of term expiration. So typing in “Driskell” yields a result showing that Gretchen Driskell serves on the Accommodations Ordinance Commission and the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). [Full Story]