Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Road Patrol Revisited (Again), Smoking Ban Enforcement and New Controller

Well, the trend of calm County Commission meetings has come to an end. Today we took up an issue that has created the most controversy among county commissioners over the last few years. But…I will get to that in a minute.

First, welcome Mary Lannoye! She is the new Ingham County Controller. We approved her appointment today, and she starts in about two weeks. I served on the Controller Search Committee (for the second time in about 5 years) and we interviewed several very qualified candidates. Mary, though, started in Ingham County and had the most knowledge about how we work. Also, for those that don’t recognize the name, she was the State Budget Director for Governor John Engler and for Governor Jennifer Granholm. She also served as Chief of Staff for Governor Granholm. We are all very excited about having her running Ingham County government!

We also passed a resolution directing our Health Department to enforce the statewide smoking ban. The legislation has the Department of Community Health (DCH) enforcing the ban, and DCH will have local public health agencies enforcing it. This usually means counties. Other counties (Kent and Oakland) have said that they will not enforce the smoking ban because it is an unfunded mandate. Ingham County, on the other hand, is vigorous in protecting the health of its citizens. We already have restaurant inspections to ensure public health safety, and this will be included in those inspections. Yes it will cost a bit more, but we are willing to pay that to enforce this important law. Ingham County was the first county to prohibit smoking in public outdoor spaces, but we could not pass a ban on smoking in restaurants (due to state law). We did, though, pass a resolution about two years ago to ensure that non-smoking sections are smoke-free. Now, we have directed our staff to enforce the smoking ban. If other counties don’t want to enforce this ban and their citizens want to come to Ingham, then we will take them! Our Board passed this unanimously.

Finally, the controversial item. I haven’t blogged about it much yet, but it dominated my county life last year. The issue is road patrol police service for the rural townships. In a nutshell, the cities and urban townships (Lansing, East Lansing, Lansing Twp, Meridian Twp, Delhi Twp) provide police and charge their citizens for it. Those citizens, though, also pay taxes to the county. Citizens who live in the rural areas (the 13 rural townships outside of the communities already mentioned) receive police road patrol services from the county, but do not provide their own police. So urban residents (my constituents in Lansing) pay for their own police and someone else’s police, whereas rural residents don’t. And, to make matters worse, road patrol only covers the rural areas. Yes, the road patrol officers sometimes come into the urban areas to make arrests, and yes the road patrol officers are sometimes leaned on for things like prisoner transit… but in the end road patrol is still a service paid for by all county taxpayers solely for 20% of the residents in the rural areas. The rural 20% will say that they only get this service and that the jails and other county services are dominated by Lansing, but the fact remains that road patrol is the only county service that is solely for the rural area. Rural residents get married (county clerk), buy land (register of deeds), have meth labs (sheriff and jail), etc. Those services may be used more by the urban population of the county (80%), but are still available to the rural (20%).

Why did I just tell you that? Well, the townships officials and residents understand that the county has budget problems and is slowly reducing financial resources for road patrol. The townships are forming an authority and asking their citizens for funding for appropriate policing. I applaud them for this. Today, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners passed a budget priority resolution where we included language saying that we will eliminate funding for road patrol and will work with the townships to create an authority to fund this with township resident millage dollars. This passed 11-3, and was bipartisan (10 Democrats and 1 Republican supported, with 1 Democrat and 2 Republicans opposing) . I spoke in support of the resolution as it will provide the appropriate service to the township residents who want better service, and road patrol will no longer get picked apart at our budget time. Commissioner Randy Schafer, who is a tremendous supporter of road patrol, supported this because he agreed with township residents who said that they need the county to make a decision before their voters do. After hours and hours of testimony and consideration last year, we have now taken the first step towards tax fairness and properly funding the road patrol police services for the rural residents and their safety.

That’s it. We also did a bunch more, and you can see our agenda online at www.ingham.org.

Until next week (or the week after)…


  1. Thank you for your support of the smokefree law.

  2. Government power the real health hazard

    The bandwagon of local smoking bans now steamrolling from sea to sea
    has nothing to do with protecting people from the "threat of second-hand
    smoke" but are themselves symptoms of a far more grievous threat: a
    cancer that has been spreading for decades throughout the body politic,
    reaching even the tiniest organs of local government. This cancer is the
    only real hazard involved - the cancer of unlimited government power.

    The issue is not whether second-hand smoke is a real danger or a phantom
    menace but rather, if it were harmful, what would be the proper reaction?
    Should anti-smoking activists satisfy themselves with educating people
    about the potential danger and allow them to make their own decisions,
    or should they seize the power of government and force people to make
    the “right” decision?

    It seems they've made their choice. Loudly billed as measures that only
    affect “public places,” they have actually targeted private places: restaurants,
    bars, nightclubs, shops, and offices - places whose owners are free to set
    anti-smoking rules or whose customers are free to go elsewhere if they don't
    like the smoke. Some local bans even harass smokers outdoors.

    The decision to smoke or to avoid “second-hand” smoke, should be made by
    each individual according to his own values and assessment of the risks.
    This is the same kind of decision free people make regarding every aspect of
    their lives: how much to spend or invest, whom to befriend or love, whether
    to go to college or get a job, whether to get married or divorced, and so on.

    All these decisions involve risks; some may have harmful consequences or
    invite disapproval from others. But the individual must be free to make these
    decisions because his life belongs to him, not to others, and only his own
    judgment can guide him through it.

    Yet when it comes to smoking, this freedom is under attack. Smokers are
    a minority, practicing a habit often considered annoying and unpleasant to
    the majority. So the majority has simply commandeered the power of
    government and used it to dictate their behaviour.

    That is why these bans are far more threatening than few stray whiffs of
    tobacco smoke while waiting for a table at your favourite restaurant. The
    anti-smoking crusaders point in exaggerated alarm at those tiny wisps while
    they unleash the systematic and unlimited intrusion of government into our lives.

  3. Did you really include having meth labs as an example of activities participated in by rural residents?

    Stay strong on the anti-smoking ban. Smokers like snowbird will hound you, but it is certainly not a choice everyone can make to avoid secondhand smoke when smokers are smoking in public. People eating in restaurants can choose to go elsewhere perhaps, but employees cannot (and it certainly cannot be argued these days that they can look for employment elsewhere). Don't even get me started on the effects of second-hand smoke on minors, who generally have no say as to their exposure. Suffice it to say, if it were up to me I would ban smoking in any home with minors living in it, but that's just the pediatrician who's admitted too many asthmatic children of smokers talking...

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