Friday, December 9, 2011

Beer Tent at Fair, Incentive Clause for Fair Manager, Honoring MLK and Dot Wilson and Cristo Rey

Sorry to be late with this blog. As my campaign for State Representative heats up, I will be going to more and more events and have less time. But I will not neglect my county duties and will try to get this blog out as quickly as possible.

In County Services this week, we took up a resolution to permanently authorize the Fair Board to allow for an adult refreshment tent at the Ingham County Fairgrounds. A few years ago, we debated this and voted to authorize the Fair Board to allow the fair to offer alcohol in a segregated and controlled environment, but only for a two year pilot. That vote was controversial because several people gave public comment that having a beer/alcohol tent would result in all kinds of problems - drunk people letting animals out of the pens, fights, drunk driving, etc. Now that we have two years experience and have had absolutely zero problems at the fair dealing with the beer/alcohol tents, we were considering a resolution to make this permanently allowed (but still up to the discretion of the Fair Board). Commissioner Grebner commented that he wanted to be sure to alert the people who opposed this that we would be taking up this resolution before we actually vote on it. He reiterated that there have been no problems and that the concerns were unfounded, but thought we should proactively notify these residents. It was also pointed out that the fair made money on the beer/alcohol tent which kept the fair in the black. Commissioner Vickers agreed that there were no problems, but requested the financials for the last two years for the fair. Both he and Commissioner Dragonetti questioned whether the financial numbers included set-up and staffing costs for the beer tent. The resolution was tabled for a meeting in order to invite the members of the public that testified previously, and to have the financial information presented to the committee.

The second controversial resolution at County Services was the resolution to hire a new Fair Manager. The resolution was much more controversial. Instead of hiring a county employee, this would hire a gentleman who was highly qualified through a company he had formed. He wanted to forego benefits and just get paid a salary. The catch is that he also wanted incentive dollars. The resolution would have authorized a salary at $80,000, plus an additional $7,500 at the end of first year and up to $15,000 at the end of the 2nd year. It was pointed out that this is cheaper than what the county pays for a full time employee at the lowest step (because benefits are not being paid, and they could be up t0 $40,000). Incentives could include making money, increased customers at the fair, effective marketing techniques, filling the commercial sponsors by some %, filling the spaces, etc...and would be created by the Fair Board with approval from the Controller.

I had serious concerns about voting for a contract with incentive money. I was especially concerned about the idea of approving this when we don't even know what the incentives will be. Because the resolution already required the controller to approve the incentives used before incentive money is disbursed, I proposed an amendment that was passed that requires the Controller to report the conditions to the County Services Committee. This will ensure that we know what those incentives are, and that we approve. I agreed to support this resolution because Controller Lannoye and Committee Chair DeLeon said that this candidate was the best that we had and that they want to finalize this contract over the next week or two.

In Finance Committee, this resolution saw even further scrutiny. Commissioner Nolan argued that Ingham County doesn't need a full time fair director for a fair that is one week in the summer, and for other random bookings of the fair grounds. She asked about comparable fairs, and said that $80,000 is a lot of money. Honestly, she made a lot of sense. Then, Commissioner Bahar-Cook also made some great points. She asked if this is the only contract he will have. Will he be available as we need him? Is he doing other fairs? If we are contracting with him through a company, how do we know that he will be doing our work first and foremost? Other questions arose from committee members about whether he will be principally based here, and if he would be doing the day to day supervision of our county staff. It was expressed that there should be a statement of hours provided to controller, and expectation of day-to-day supervision of county staff and hours, and requirements of working on site - as would be expected of a full time county employee. Commissioner Grebner and Bahar-Cook proposed an amendment which passed requiring a statement of hours worked on a regular basis to assure that services provided are comparable to a full time employee. Additionally, an amendment was passed to eliminate the incentives. Again, several committee members mentioned that an incentive bonus is not something we do with any other employee. The parks director doesn't get this for the number of users of the parks; the health department doesn't get this for assisting clients; etc. Commissioner McGrain along with Commissioners Bahar-Cook and Nolan said that even if this way is cheaper, it is still something we don't do with our county directors. Also, it was pointed out that other employees could decide not to take benefits, and we don't offer them incentives. It was a very convincing argument and I decided to support the amendment. Commissioner McGrain pointed out that we could review the county policy and implement these countywide, but not just for the Fair Director. After these amendments were passed, the resolution was passed and will now go to the Board floor.

We also approved several resolutions, including a resolution honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a resolution honoring Dorothy (Dot) Wilson who recently passed away, and a resolution honoring Cristo Rey Church on the event of its 50th Anniversary.

I will note that these were the last committee meetings of the year. Next year I will be on the Human Services and County Services committees, so you will hear about the issues that those two committees discuss. We have one more Board meeting, on Tuesday, where we will deal with the Intent to Dissolve the Road Commission resolution in addition to the resolutions mentioned in this blog.

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