Friday, December 17, 2010

LEAP, Outside Counsel for Judge, Police Services Money

This week, the Board of Commissioner had our final meeting of the year…and it was a long one!

First, we dealt with our membership to the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). You may recall that the resolution to pay our $35,000 LEAP membership for 2010 failed at out Board meeting 2 weeks ago. We had two people testify in public comment that LEAP was necessary and very important for the region – Steve Alexander from PNC Bank and Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing. When the resolution came up, Commissioner Holman offered an amendment to reduce the amount paid to LEAP from $35,000 to $15,000. I was among the people voting against this. I believe that we sat at the table and made decisions with the rest of the LEAP membership (public and private) and we should pay the same as the others. That amount is $35,000. Next year the cost is reduced to $15,000, and LEAP recognizes that governments are short in funding and having a hard time. Commissioner Holman’s amendment failed, and the resolution passed this time.

We also dealt with a resolution requested by Judge Giddings to pay off legal bills that he faces. Because of a certain situation where he was being sued by another county entity, he was forced to retain outside counsel. According to state law, the County is responsible for paying that. In short, he has a disagreement over whether he can sit as judge in a case involving a former judge. He thinks he can but the Chief Judge thinks he can’t. The Prosecutor has filed a motion to change the venue of the case with the Appeals Court, and Judge Giddings is fighting it. Because the Prosecutor is using the County Attorney, Judge Giddings needs an outside counsel. The one catch is that Judge Giddings is no longer a judge as of the end of December. So, the County Board agreed to pay the costs already occurred (no more than $7,000), but indicated we will not pay anything further and would like to see the case dropped. This was a tough one. Personally, I don’t like it when one agency of the county sues another and doesn’t consult with the Board of Commissioners, then expects us to pay. I will be drafting a policy to require prior approval of the Board before one entity sues another. But, because we have to follow state law and this expense is necessary for the Judge in his official capacity, I voted to pay this but specify that we won’t pay anything further because the case should be over.

The final controversial resolution that we considered, which took a long time, was the resolution to give money to Williamstown for their police services (using assessment money) and to give money to Alaiedon Twp if they decide to contract with the county for police services (using general fund dollars). A resolution we passed last month specified that we would only give money to Williamstown if they contracted with the county. They decided, though, to contract with Meridian Twp for police services. While many of think this is unfortunate, it seems that Meridian gave a lower bid for the services. I am not sure how this is possible and it has been suggested to me that Meridian is paying less that it will actually cost (which means the Meridian taxpayers are actually subsidizing the service), but the fact remains that Williamstown went with the lowest bidder.

According to what we passed last month, this would mean that we will not give Williamstown any county money for transition. Commissioner Randy Schafer proposed a resolution that would change our past resolution and grant Williamstown $122,000 for any purpose. This is something that Commissioner Grebner has been proposing and he incorporated this into a resolution that we already had on the Board floor. This was a very tough decision for everyone. The Board committed to give money to any township that passed a millage or assessment, but it was unclear if we had actually stated in any of our policies earlier in the year that the community had to contract with the county. I expressed that I would not support changing direction unless the county dollars are specifically used to re-hire deputies that are laid-off. In the end, in my mind, I had to balance the need to have the township use our money to contract with the Sheriff versus the need to have the township use our money to hire the deputies that we have to lay off as a result of the townships voting down the assessments for road patrol and the county eliminating road patrol.

After great discussion, Commissioner Grebner proposed language requiring Williamstown to use the county money to hire deputies that were laid off from the county. He also said that the deputies have to be “qualified” so that there aren’t people doing other jobs that are demanding the money. This word, though, is now causing some problems as there could be some shenanigans occurring in saying that the deputies laid off from the county may not be qualified because of minor details. I am going to keep a close eye on this, and have made my opinions clear that we should not approve moving the money if the township is not hiring our deputies. I also am willing to come back and re-define the work “qualified” in our resolution if necessary.

There were also concerns that the resolution allows Williamstown to use the money for contracting outside or with the county, while Alaiedon has to contract with the county (which they have said they would do). Some are concerned that there will not be a unified police force throughout the county. My response to that was that the voters decided on November 2nd that they do not want a unified police force when they turned down the assessments and millages. At this point, the Board will deal with each interested township individually and according to the situation that they are in when they talk to us about county money for their police force (until the end of 2011).

So that’s it for this week. I am not sure if I will blog next week…depends on what is going on and if there is enough to talk about. If I don’t blog, I hope everyone has a happy holiday and great New Year!

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