Friday, October 28, 2011

Road Commission Resolution Referred to Committee, Health Director Appointed, Medical Officer Re-Created, Dentists Hired

To begin my blog this week, I would like to welcome a variety of new readers of my blog. We once again heard from those unhappy with the Road Commission Board, and this time my blog was read during public comment. As the only person that writes a weekly blog on the County Board, I am happy that people are reading it!

As assumed in my blog last week, we again had a personal resolution introduced calling for Road Commissioner Shirley Rodgers to resign. Before I get into that, I would like to address some confusion with what I have written in my blog.

The Road Commission and its employees are not a “Democrat or Republican” issue. I never meant to insinuate that they are. The Ingham County Road Commission employees do a great job getting the roads fixed and cleared, and I am proud of the work they do. But it is a fact that the late resolutions were introduced by the four Republicans on the County Board. In committee last week and on the Board floor, the late and personal resolutions were introduce by Commissioners Dragonetti,Vickers, Schafer, and Dougan. As far as I know, no Democrats were even talked to about these resolutions before they were introduced. So…it is true that the Republicans introducved these resolutions. As for the motivations of the public that show up, I take them at their word that they are not there because someone asked them to be. It is odd, though, that we had no public coming to committee about the Road Commission problems until the late resolution (introduced by the four Republicans) was sprung on us without any notice. But whatever.

At the Board meeting, we heard significant public testimony from several Road Commission employees and from friends and family of Mr. Jim Benjamin, who was fired from the Road Commission. We then had the resolution calling for Shirley Rodgers to resign or face removal proceedings moved for immediate consideration. Board Chair Grebner explained the Board policy that all personal and late resolutions are automatically referred to committee unless they have already been considered at committee or the Board votes to overrule the rules on a 2/3 vote. This is to ensure that the public has the appropriate notice of the resolution because it is on the official agenda, ensure that the attorney can review it and comment on the legality, and to ensure that committee work (language details) can be done in committee. The motion was made to have the resolution not be referred to committee, but it was defeated 5-11. 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted to keep the resolution on the Board floor. Personally, I voted against it because I think that this needs to be worked on in committee. I read the resolution. It said a lot of bad things about Shirley Rodgers, but included not one thing that she did wrong. I would like for some of those things to be included so we can at least have the allegations written down before, and any accompanying proof given to us, before considering something like this on the Board floor. I also am not comfortable calling for a resignation. That does nothing and is a waste of everyone’s time. If there is proof of malfeasance or misfeasance of any Road Commissioner, I am willing to consider that. This is the role of the County Commission. Under state law, we cannot overrule decisions made by the Road Commission nor can we reinstate any employees such as Mr. Benjamin. We can take written proof given to us and decide if a Road Commissioner has committed malfeasance or misfeasance in office as according to the conditions in the law and case law.

The resolution was referred to County Services, where it is on the agenda for Tuesday. So I will report more on this next week. Personally, I look forward to actually seeing the evidence that is out there in support of malfeasance. Instead of hearing about police reports and secret investigations, I hope that information is given to us proving these and all other accusations so we can find finality on this resolution. Again, we can’t re-hire Mr. Benjamin. He was terminated with a majority vote by the Road Commission (EDITORS'S NOTE...In the original blog posting, I said that it was ironic that Shirley Rodgers voted against it. That was incorrect and was brought to my attention by a member of the public. Milton Scales voted against it and the other 4 Commissioners voted for it. I confused this vote with another voted taken by the by the road commission. My apologies) and we have no say over their management employees. I have no opinion on whether he should or should not have been terminated. I don’t know him and have never met him. I don’t know if he is a good or bad manager . He clearly has many supporters. He also has some detractors. He has filed a complaint and we will look at it and deem if county policies were violated or not and act accordingly.

In other business, we bid farewell to our Health Director, Dean Sienko. He has been an incredible Health Director for Ingham County, and is a state and national leader. We also welcomed Dr. Renee Canady, who will be our new Health Department Director. Dr. Sienko had been serving as the Health Officer/Medical Director/Medical Examiner in his role as Director. We recently discovered that we re-created the Health Officer position, as needed, and appointed Dr. Canady to that position. We neglected, though, to re-establish an independent Medical Director position. This needs to be done immediately as we need to have one as soon as Dr. Sienko is retired. We had a late resolution to re-establish this position. Again, because it is a late resolution, we needed a 2/3 vote to consider it that night. Commissioners Vickers and Dragonetti voted against consideration and passage of this resolution because they were upset that this was considered immediately but the Road Commission resolution was not. It did pass, though, on a bi-partisan 14-2 vote (with bi-partisan support).

The only other resolution that was controversial on the agenda was a resolution to authorize dental services contracts with our licensed dentists. Ingham County’s Community Health Center Network (CHCN) operates two dental health centers and uses a mix of employed and contracted dentists to provide services. The Health Department’s 2012 Budget includes $159,120 to pay for contractual dentists. This resolution approved the contracts through the end of 2012. Commissioner Vickers opposed this as well and said that the pay for the dentists is too much compared to the amount that we pay our other employees. While I understand that we are paying our dentists higher than other employees, we also are well aware that dentists are very hard to hire. We have had dentist shortages in the recent years because we can't pay them enough. The result is reduced service to those in Ingham County that have severe dental needs. We are still paying lower than private dentists receive but are at least able to actually hire dentists and provide the service to those who desperately need it in Ingham County. The resolution passed 14-2 (again with bi-partisan support).

Well, that's about it. I hope you are having a great weekend and I will report back again at the end of the week!

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