Happy Thanksgiving! I took last week off due to Thanksgiving, and the fact that there was nothing controversial at the Board meeting last Tuesday.
This week we only had County Services, and it was a special meeting to discuss the proposed road commission resolutions. There were four - my resolution to disband the road commission board and bring the operations in-house, the Grebner resolution to call on all five road commissioners to resign, the resolution calling on the road commission to pass ethics and other policies, and the Vickers/Dragonetti/Schafer/Dougan resolution calling for Shirley Rodgers to resign.
We started with a discussion of procedure. Committee Chair De Leon said that we have four resolutions on the table and someone needs to move one off the table and before the committee. Before that, though, Commissioner Vickers moved to have Chair De Leon replaced by the committee Vice Chair or the Board Chair. This was defeated on a 2-4 vote, and Commissioner Grebner pointed out that there is no actual motion to do this in our rules or Mason's rules (which we use as our rules when our Board rules don't govern).
After that, I moved that my resolution - intending to disband the Road Commission Board and bring the operations in-house - be taken off the table and put before the committee. Our Administrator/Controller Mary Lannoye gave a good update. She went through different potential issues. She said that the HR and Finance operations could easily be brought in to the county. She said there are differences in employee contracts (health care contributions, etc) as well as pension stuff, but these could be worked out easily. We could either maintain separate systems, create a hybrid, or merge them. These are incidental decisions that would have to be made if we determined that the direction of the County Board was to dissolve the Road Commission Board.
Both Mary and I gave an update on the legislative action. We cannot bring the Road Commission in-house under current law, but the Legislature is moving bills to allow us to do this. At the time of the committee, the House had considered the bills on second reading and only had to finalize them with a third reading vote. They changed the bills to indicate that county boards could dissolve appointed road commissions, but elected road commissions would have to be dissolved at the ballot box. So, this won't affect our situation at all. Since then, the House has passed the bills and they are now on to the Senate for consideration. We had someone indicate that they heard from senior Senate staff that the bills will be done by the end of the year. Additionally, the Governor called for these bills and wants them.
The debate was interesting after that. There were lots of comments and questions about the details of what we would do to bring them within the county structure. Mary had answers for all of these questions. We had a long conversation about including an advisory board similar to the 911 advisory board that would deide how the money is expended. The dollars come from Public Act 51 and would be dedicated to road operations as per that law, and the advisory committee would decide what roads, equipment, etc would receive funding. It would likely include members of the service area, so probably township supervisors and other township people. They would make recommendations to the County Board that we could accept or reject and send back to them (which is how it works with 911). It would not, however, deal with internal employee issues. Those would likely go through our normal HR complaint processes and end with the County Services committee (like all other employee complaints). While I did not include this in my resolution, I am wholly supportive of this being added on the Board floor or as a separate resolution. Commissioner Victor Celentino has been as tremendous advocate for the township residents and Supervisors to have inclusion in the process and I expect him to be a leader in crafting this language.
During debate, I talked about the need to do this now because of all the issues that we have had. Things have been more politicized due to the fact that the Road Commissioners are political appointees. They do not necessarily have experience with road issues. And, of course, the biggest problem is that they are appointed for 6 years and have no responsibility to listen to the elected officials or residents or anyone. They can only be removed for malfeasance. To me, it seems that roads should be done as a department of the county just like parks and the health department and animal control and other departments. The management structure will remain intact, with the Controller/Administrator as the top staff and the Board of Commissioners the final decision makers.
Board Chair Grebner said that the road commission is dysfunctional. He said that the problems are not perceived… they are real and the system has broken down. He pushed for the advisory board and said that the county commissioners are still in charge and the final decision makers. He encouraged the adoption of the resolution.
Commissioner Celentino said that passing this resolution will clearly show our intent, and our staff can start working towards getting all the details in place. He said that in his 11 years, the Road Commission has been a roller-coaster ride; and we keep appointing new people but it still doesn't seem to work so now is the time to do this.
Commissioner Copedge said that he is optimistic that the road commission board will can work better. He said that he was opposed to passing the resolution without having discussions with the road commission. He said that we need to invite them in to talk to us. He said that he wasn't necessarily against the resolution but wanted to do his due diligence. He did eventually agree to support the resolution when it was amended (see below). I pointed out that road commissioners were invited to the Tuesday meeting but were advised by local counsel not to attend. I thought that was a mistake because we had yet to hear from them as a body, except for a letter we recently received saying that they are still planning to hire new HR and Finance directors even though the Road Commission Board may be dissolved and both HR and Finance can be done by the existent county staff.
Commissioner Dragonetti said that he was wholly supportive of the resolution and needed change on the Road Commission Board. He and Commissioner Vickers indicated their displeasure with the existing road commission and said that they think we should do this now. Commissioner Vickers asked what would change tomorrow if we do this today. I responded that we cannot take a final action today, and that none of the resolutions on the docket would produce results that quickly. And, in fact, the only resolution that could produce results quick is the one that I introduced. His resolution calling on the Road Commission Chair to resign would not do anything, and removal procedures would require us to provide notification and have the road commissioner then do a resolution and would take a long time.
Commissioners Nolan, Holman, Tsernoglou, McGrain, Schafer were also in attendance. Commissioner Nolan said she is supportive of the resolution and disappointed in the letter from the road commission about hiring. Commissioner McGrain said that he originally was skeptical because this is a lot to take on, but the controller has done her work (and has more to do) but this is the right move to take. Commissioner Schafer said he supports the resolution and the advisory board, and said that commissioners get calls now from constituents and they pass those on and get issues taken care of (brush in the road, etc).
Commissioner Holman said that a department is a good idea but wants to make sure that this is well planned out like 911 and the zoo. She actually pointed out that she had concerns with the effective date in the resolution, at which point I told her that I thought that had been removed. I had several different drafts and thought I removed the effective date in the most recent draft (previous drafts said the resolution is effective 30 days after the Governor signs the bills). The language remained in, though, so Commissioner Grebner and I drafted an amendment to remove that language. Now, the resolution says that we intend to disband the road commission board and create a Department of Transportation and Roads, and once the legislation is passed into law allowing use to do this we will pass another resolution that sets a timeline for this merger and that solves the other details that are being worked on (i.e. employee benefits and pensions and other things).
Commissioner De Leon said she has concerns about additional burdens to our staff, but is more comfortable with this than when it was first brought up. Commissioner Copedge also said at the end of the debate that removal of the 30 days provides him more comfort because he can be sure that the details are taken care of before this is finalized.
So... the resolution passed unanimously (6-0)!!! And with 5 more Commissioners at the meeting saying they will vote for it and at least one or two others telling me they will vote for it, this resolution will pass the Board meeting on the 13th. So we will take the first step. We have been told that the Legislature will pass the bills and they will be signed by the Governor by the end of the year. As soon as we have all the details worked out, we will pass the final resolution and officially bring the county roads in-house.
After we finished that resolution, there was a motion to not take up the other three resolutions (as the preferred one was passed) so they remain on the table indefinitely. They can still be taken up if the Legislature doesn't act, but we are hoping that they are not needed.
It was a long meeting, but a good one. Hopefully this will start us on the path of solving the problems at the road commission. I commend the members of the road commission board who are all trying to do what they think is best, but at this point we have not heard anything in any of our meetings about why decisions have been made in the past and what the plans are for working out the problems in the future. So, we took our own action. I guess we'll see how this continues to play out.
On a personal note, thanks to all who have wished me luck in my State Rep race and to everyone who has expressed their support. The offers to knock doors and contribute and help out have been overwhelming, and I am excited for the campaign and for the opportunity to serve Lansing and Lansing Township in the State House of Representatives!