Friday, April 27, 2012

Road Commission Board Issue Completed, and a Campaign Update

This week was it...the week everyone has been waiting for. The week that we had final consideration of the resolution to dissolve the Road Commission Board and have the County Commission take over the operations of the Road Commission. We had public comment from some employees and two of the Road Commissioners. When debate began, Commissioner Victor Celentino moved a substitute that would have the county take over finance, human resources, and information technology from the road commission. It would then give the Road Commission until late November to operate. At the second meeting in November, the County Commission would once again review the Road Commission and could take it over with the same conditions proposed by the Controller for the current resolution. Commissioner Todd Tennis spoke in support of the substitute. He said that we, the County Commissioners, created this problem because we appointed these folks. He said that we have not had proper communications with the Road Commission Board, and he said that we are a political board and will make these political decisions even if we are in charge of the roads. He also said that this will be a tremendous burden for County Commissioners, who will now take all the complaints that the Road Commission Board usually hears. I spoke next. To be honest, I gave this a lot of thought over the weekend before the vote. I was the person who originally proposed eliminating the road commission when the Governor signed the bills because I did not think that they were accountable to the county commissioners or to the residents. But I also have spoken with several people (employees, residents, road commission members, etc) and recognize that in the four months since the legislation passed, the road commission board has been nothing but accountable and have done everything we think is needed for success. When I speak in debate, I speak from the heart and don't use a script, to I can't say exactly what I my arguments went something like this. I said that in my nine years on the County Board, the road commission has always been a problem because they never listen to us, the elected officials. That always caused problems. But once we had leverage over them - once we could eliminate the Road Commission Board at any time - they became 100% accountable to us. We asked them to give up finance and HR and IT, and they did it. We asked them to give control of employee relations, including hiring and firing, to their managing director and they did that too. With three years available to eliminate the road commission, I decided that we didn't need to do it four months into the three year period. I decided that the road commission board may actually have other ideas that they could implement, including ideas that would be good for the roads! And with three years available, we don't necessarily need to rush into this decision. So I said that I would support this substitute and re-evaluate the Road Commission Board in late November. Commissioner Grebner took the other side. He said that the County Commission is political and will continue to be political and make political appointments. He said that the Road Commission Board continues to mettle in employee matters and not correctly utilize their managing director. He argued that the Board of Commissioners is not political with its employees such as the health department, equalization, 911, etc. He said that the Road Commission may change to be more non-political now, it will become political once again. Commissioner Holman followed up and said that abolishing the Road Commission Board is a good government decision. She said that it is an old system and needs to be updated, and having the County Commission in charge is a better system for road service delivery. She said that the substitute would create a mixed system and would be worse than taking over the road commission. She argued that no one would know who is in charge and who makes what decisions. Commissioner Dougan and Schafer also weighed in. Dougan said that it is a simple nature of governmental bodies to be predictable, and that we always know who is really going to get appointed to positions. He said that the structure will continue because politically elected boards will have the same appointments and traditions. Abolishing the Board would end that pattern. Schafer said this would not be a hassle for commissioners and that he takes complaints now and sends them to the staff. He said that the 911 advisory board took the politics out of the 911 centers, and that an advisory board of township supervisors (stakeholders) would take the politics out of the roads. He also said that the Road Commission Board is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and studies, and that there will be more meddling and politics in future. Commissioner Koenig asked if there is any legal reason that we couldn't make this change, in response to testimony from the County Road Commission Association about some technical pieces. Our attorney assured us that we can, in fact, pass the resolution that was in front of us. She said that assimilation is a healthier and more stable culture, and that culture change needs a massive action . Honestly, this was some of the best debate and discussion that I have heard in a long time. People were passionate and open minded, and really took this discussion seriously. The Celentino substitute failed on a 6-10 vote (SUB SUPPORTERS: Bahar-Cook, Celentino, Copedge, De Leon, Schor, Tennis; all others opposed). Commissioner Holman then offered amendments to change the language from stating that we are doing this because of past problems with the road commission to language saying that we are doing this because we are modernizing the county road system. These amendments passed unanimously. Commissioner McGrain spoke during general debate and said that over time it became more and more clear to him that this is an important thing to do. He said that the system and structure appear to be broken. The residents want a professional, capable body. He also said that he talked to the township residents in his district and they are supportive (he represents eastern Lansing Twp). Commissioner Celentino also weighed in and said the his township supervisor said that he has a good relationship with the road commission and chair (he represents western Lansing Twp). After all the debate, the resolution was voted on and passed 10-6 (with all of the substitute supporters now opposing the resolution). It will take effect June 1st, and the Road Commission Board members and managing director all indicated that there will be a smooth transition. I expect that we will now have follow-up resolutions to create an advisory committee consisting of the township supervisors. I would like to take this opportunity to specifically thank Road Commission members Jim Dravenstatt-Moceri and Milton Scales, who attended the meeting and spoke from the heart. Also, I owe great thanks to Marc Thomas, who agreed to seek a road commission position when there was a great need and who constantly kept me informed of his thoughts. I did not work closely with Norm Gear or Shirley Johnson, but also appreciate their work on the Road Commission Board. I believe we are the first county to do this since the legisaliton passed. We will be a test case and will see how it goes. I can honestly say that at the end of the night Tuesday, I was mentally exhausted. This was definitely one of the toughest issues we have faced in a few years. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and comments on this issue. I heard a lot, and am glad that it is over and we can move on to other issues (employee negotiations, budget, millages, etc.). On the campaign trail, this week I announced two endorsements from labor unions and workers - the Plumbers and Pipefitters and the Operating Engineers. I thank both of these unions and their members. We will have more announcements in the coming weeks as the endorsements continue to pile up. Door-to-door continues to go very well and I have covered much of the district. Response has been overwhelmingly good. People are disappointed that Reps Bauer and Byrum are term-limited out of office, but are very supportive of my issues and experience. Fundraising also continues to go well, and we will have another event coming up soon in addition to volunteer opportunities to announce. If you are interested in volunteering or contributing, please go to and you can fill out the form. Thanks everyone for all your support!


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