Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Road Comissioners and Jail Bond

8. November 2006 • Bruce Fields
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From Conan Smith:

On November 15, the County Board of Commissioners will vote on several contentious issues, including appointments to the Road Commission and Historic District Commission and a proposal to bond for $21 million to, in part, construct a new jail pod with 96 beds.

Appointments

The Board of Commissioners will appoint one Road Commissioner and five Historic District Commissioners. The future of Gordon Hall and the East Delhi Bridge, two of the County’s most precious historic assets, lie in the balance. Gordon Hall was purchased earlier this year by the Dexter Area Historical Society from the University of Michigan. A key part of the financing for the property involves developing a portion of the land and planting grapes for a winery on another part. Recent debates at the County Historic District Commission have trended toward denial of permission for these two options, which would undermine the funding for the property and jeopardize its long-range preservation. The Road Commission would like to cut a road through a portion of the Gordon Hall property. Neither the County, the County Parks and Rec Commission, nor the Road Commission contributed to the acquisition of the property. The Road Commission closed the E. Delhi bridge in June 2005 and has proposed replacing it with a concrete or iron truss bridge. Citizens have organized but have failed thus far to convince the commission to save the bridge. The final decision will be made by the road commission this year.

Jail Bond

After more than two years deliberation, the County Board will issue a bond to expand the chronically overcrowded county jail. The 96-bed addition ($21M) will be accompanied by funding to operate the expansion ($1.2M annually) and staffing of a “Sequential Intercept Team” ($0.5M annually) to reduce future jail bed needs. The bond would be financed in part by savings realized in the police services area and by paying down the county’s $14M capital reserve fund.

Links



  1. “several contentious issues, including appointments to the Road Commission”

    A2 News on 7 November says:

    “Washtenaw County Board Chairman Wes Prater, who was defeated in the primary election in August, is now asking his board colleagues to appoint him to a seat that is coming open on the Washtenaw County Road Commission.”

    Issues include whether it’s appropriate for Prater to nominate himself for the $10K a year job, whether it should be fast-tracked in light of 9 other applicants, and whether Prater’s appointment would reflect appropriate geographic balance. Commissioner Ouimet is quoted as raising some of those issues in the complete A2 News article, which is here


       —HD    Nov. 8 '06 - 10:52PM    #
  2. They just can’t stop conflating the jail/patrol issue! What has happened to the lawsuit of the townships against this board? Can we circulate a petition and require a vote on this issue or do we have to circulate a new petition each and every time the county board votes to sell bonds and then retracts it? Is there some legal way to stop the bond proposal for a given period of time?


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 10 '06 - 06:24PM    #
  3. The patrols are one step closer to gone, jail or no. Judge won’t halt deputy layoffs

    “In a 23-page ruling issued Wednesday, Monroe County Circuit Judge Joseph Costello said he would not interfere with the legislative decisions of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and refused Minzey’s request for an injunction that would prevent layoffs in Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti townships.”

    “In his ruling, Costello said that Minzey was not likely to succeed in his legal arguments and found that the county board is responsible for setting the sheriff’s budget and ultimately staffing levels.”

    “Minzey said he received a memo from Guenzel on Thursday that indicated that eight positions currently open at the department were eliminated and the respective funding for them was moved to a reserve fund. Minzey said he is considering seeking an emergency appeal of Costello’s ruling from the state appellate court.”


       —TPM    Nov. 10 '06 - 07:20PM    #
  4. Thanks for the info and link.


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 10 '06 - 07:28PM    #
  5. The Road Commission has three members, vast responsibilities, and almost complete independence from other parts of the county government. A seat on the Road Commission in a large county like Washtenaw is roughly as important or powerful as a seat in the state legislature.

    Given the stakes involved, county boards are very careful who they choose to put on the Road Commission. Ideally, it should be someone who has proven integrity and trustworthiness by many years of service in responsible public positions, such as mayor, township supervisor, or county commissioner.

    Given these considerations, Wes Prater (former township supervisor and county board chair) is the obvious, maybe even inevitable, candidate for the seat.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 10 '06 - 08:54PM    #
  6. “Given these considerations, Wes Prater (former township supervisor and county board chair) is the obvious, maybe even inevitable, candidate for the seat.”

    Based on that claim, Larry, it sounds like you’re familiar enough with the credentials of the other nine candidates to rule them out as qualified.

    So how about giving us a rundown, explaining why each is not qualified?


       —HD    Nov. 11 '06 - 04:27PM    #
  7. Just for fun, and to verify Larry’s comment on the power of the RC, here’s the auditor’s report for 2005

    $26 million in annual expenditures, and $171 million in assets. Not bad for a a 3-person entity.


       —Murph.    Nov. 11 '06 - 07:39PM    #
  8. ”$26 million in annual expenditures, and $171 million in assets. Not bad for a 3-person entity.”

    Which is why it’s important to look seriously at more than just the ‘obvious’ candidate.

    Larry seems (at least to me … perhaps he’s just describing what he sees as the prevailing sentiment on the County Board) to be suggesting that the Road Commission is not an ‘entry-level’ job in public service, so those without an adequate resume in public service need not apply.

    But elsewhere has said: “The real solution is to interest more people in public service, and I don’t know how to do that. But the fact that there is a shortage does not gain a lot of attention.”

    I think one way to ‘do that’ is to make sure that the nine other applicants for Road Commission see clearly that their applications are taken seriously, given thoughtful and reflective consideration for the maximum time allowable under the rules of appointment.

    One way not to ‘do that’ is promote this notion that there’s a ‘resume’ of public service that needs to be completed before applying for various public service jobs.


       —HD    Nov. 11 '06 - 08:17PM    #
  9. Or, at least, not to assume that elected office is the only public service that counts.

    At one point, a County Commissioner approached me with the question of whether I thought Prof. Jonathan Levine would be interested in a nomination for Road Commissioner. Levine is the Chair of UM’s Urban & Regional Planning department, teaches public economics and transportation planning, among other things, and specializes in questioning how existing public policy might be restricting freedom of choice in housing, job, and transportation choices. I think that and the absence of elected office bias in his resume would make him an excellent Road Commissioner, with an unusual ability and interest in looking at long-range and County-wide wellbeing, but, I told this County Commissioner, I doubted he’d want to add yet another administrative position on that would further cut into his academic research/teaching.

    I don’t know if the offer was ever extended to Levine, but I mention this now as an example of how extremely relevent expertise might be found outside of elected experience.


       —Murph.    Nov. 11 '06 - 10:03PM    #
  10. May be it is time to get some fresh thinking by appointing a person with no public service background, but with excellent private industry background. Helps bring a new perspective than the same old thinking. We may get some creative ideas to save money in the 17 million budget.

    Just my two cents !


       —Srini    Nov. 12 '06 - 05:33AM    #
  11. Wow, Looks like I was already thinking about reducing the 26 million budget to 17 million, when I wrote my previous comment ! a savings of almost 33%.


       —Srini    Nov. 12 '06 - 05:36AM    #
  12. No, I have no idea who the other applicants are, and I didn’t think that I implied anything about them by saying that Wes Prater is the “obvious, maybe even inevitable” choice.

    Nor do I have any direct voice in the decision. I used to, when I was on the county board, but not any more.

    I agree with the comment that Road Commissioner is not an “entry-level” position.

    The issue is not just knowledge and experience, but trust. The Road Commission has vast autonomy coupled with limited public visibility, and there is almost no check on their discretion, short of criminal prosecution.

    Around the state in past decades, road commissions have flirted with borderline improprieties. They build themselves palatial offices, provide themselves with luxury cars, and even accept lavish gifts from road contractors and other interested parties.

    A road commissioner has to be more than skilled and knowledgeable. He or she should be someone with proven resistance to this kind of temptation.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 13 '06 - 09:30PM    #
  13. If Wes had our trust, he would have had our votes. He betrayed the township interests and should not be rewarded by the county for doing so.


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 13 '06 - 09:33PM    #
  14. That group is starting to look exceptionally gifted at appointing each other to things.

    I understand that a lot of the unglamorous, underpaid jobs in civil service end up being done by the same group of willing political insiders, but I’d like to see a greater effort of trying to bring in some fresh blood.


       —Dubious about the board of commissioners    Nov. 14 '06 - 07:23PM    #
  15. “If Wes had our trust, he would have had our votes. He betrayed the township interests and should not be rewarded by the county for doing so.”

    Last time I checked, Ypsi Township does not equal Washtenaw County. One could argue that Ypsi Township is not representative of the County either.


       —John Q.    Nov. 14 '06 - 07:43PM    #
  16. Dubious, there are probably hundreds of appointed positions on various boards and commissions appointed by Washtenaw County. There are certainly hundreds more seats for Ann Arbor city boards and commissions, and at least dozens in every township and village.

    Some of these boards have independent powers, such as a planning commission’s authority over special use permits, or a zoning board’s authority to make or refuse exceptions. All of them have some ability to shape local government policy.

    Each of the local governments, as well as individual council members, trustees and commissioners, tries to promote these things and solicit applications from the public. Still, usually, not enough people apply for these unglamorous, unpaid jobs. Hence, it’s a very easy way to demonstrate that you have an interest and aptitude for this kind of work.

    The Road Commission is a bit apart from the others, due mainly to the massive potential for easy abuse of power and corruption. Like I said, a Road Commission seat is about as important as a seat in the state House of Representatives. It is not an entry level job.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 14 '06 - 10:09PM    #
  17. Hello! Your friendly County BOC member has been reading the comments here with great interest. Tomorrow, I will be casting my vote for appointments to a slew of county boards and commissions. Many of these bodies make important decisions or recommendations that shape the future development of our community (physically and socially).

    One of the most important positions that County Board members must fill is the Road Commission appointment. Others before me have mentioned the autonomy of the Road Commission and the six year terms that give Road Commissioners a certain amount of insulation from political/public influence. Larry Kestenbaum, as usual, hit the nail on the head.

    So, when I go looking for somebody to cast my vote for a Road Commission appointment, I want to make sure that I support the best possible candidate for the job. By my lights, this includes somebody with experience in budgets and reviewing the financial operations of public bodies. It means somebody who knows how to change organizations positively from the board level and somebody who can hit the ground running.

    Also, we need somebody who has tireless respect for public comment, customer service and input into public decisions. We also need somebody who respects the value of conservation and adhering to Washtenaw County’s environmentalist values.

    Geographic, gender and racial diversity are also important factors to consider. I want the Road Commission to be representative of the community it represents. That’s why there isn’t Road Commissioners from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Chelsea, Saline or Milan. Gas tax revenues for cities come directly to cities.

    When I look at all of these factors together, Wes Prater is the best choice. He has good judgement and a good heart. Even though he and I have disagreed heartily about police services and the percentage that the county should pay for the townships’ police patrols, Wes Prater has earned my respect and my vote. All the while he was pushing and pushing for a better subsidization package for townships, he always acted above board and approached this public policy dilemma with respect and careful consideration.

    Basically, after witnessing Wes Prater in action, I developed a great deal of respect for him. Perhaps other applicants haven’t had the opportunity to work as closely with County Board members and earn that respect and familiarity. Nonetheless, reality is what I have to work with.


       —Jeff Irwin    Nov. 14 '06 - 11:32PM    #
  18. Quid pro quo?


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 15 '06 - 01:32PM    #
  19. Thank you for your comments, Jeff. As another County Commissioner, I might add that Wes has served as the liaison from our board to the Road Commission for the last four years. There is no one in the county who has a better picture of how the Road Commission works, and the challenges it faces in terms of management practices and customer service. These are areas that Wes will work hard to improve.


       —Leah Gunn    Nov. 15 '06 - 01:34PM    #
  20. I’ll bet the appointment will occur after Wes votes to eliminate Road Patrols to the township he is supposed to be representing.


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 15 '06 - 03:18PM    #
  21. Will he have to vote to support the jail bond proposal as well?


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 15 '06 - 03:22PM    #
  22. Wow, does Karen Luck actually believe that Wes Prater supported the county’s proposal for how to pay for police services?

    Worse yet, does she believe that “Wes Prater voted to eliminate Road Patrols to the township he is supposed to be representing?”

    The County Board of Commissioners has public meetings with minutes posted on the WWW. You can check them out and determine for yourself how Commissioner Prater voted. Seeing as I was there, you might save yourself the time and trust me when I say that Wes Prater has not participated in the majority that led to the new police service contracts (which led to some townships determining that they do not want to purchase their police protection from the county Sheriff’s Department.)

    Wes Prater has been in support of expanding and modernizing the jail (security upgrades and infrastructure needs). I am personally very glad that we were able to come together around a far scaled-down plan to address this chronic black mark on our community (the jail). Thankfully, we were able to do so despite our differences on road patrol.


       —Jeff Irwin    Nov. 15 '06 - 09:31PM    #
  23. Larry, that is very reassuring to know.

    There is a perception in Washtenaw county—and perhaps it’s wrong—that appointments onto things (even things like the watershed council) are based on knowing someone in your party who would put your name forward. There is also a belief that to really have a shot at anything meaningful, it is not just qualifications that will get you there but also some demonstration of loyalty and affiliation (for example, being a precinct delegate, or being active in campaigns or fundraising). That’s a very discouraging prerequisite for those who don’t have much interest in partisan activities, but who are very interested in civic service.

    I’m pleased to hear that may be wrong.


       —Dubious    Nov. 15 '06 - 10:39PM    #
  24. In Washtenaw County, we publish all the appointments that are up for review in September, with a deadline of applying (which you can do online) at the end of October. We often appoint people we don’t even know based on their resumes, and there are many positions that go unfilled for lack of applicants. If we are acquainted with someone, of course it helps, and sometimes we go and recruit people for positions that have not been applied for. So it’s a very fair system, and Dubious is welcome to apply for any vacancy s/he wishes. There are some committees that, by law or ordinace, require specific qualifications, but those are spelled out in the advertising. So it is far from a closed system.


       —Leah Gunn    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:49AM    #
  25. I’m glad to know that this perception is not reality.

    Since you bring up the publishing of appointments, I want to point out that there have been problems. With the vacancy that opened on the Board of Commissioners last spring, the BOC never put the opening on the county website (there is a place for open positions to be listed). While it ran the notice in the Ann Arbor News, it purchased it as if it were a advertisement. It was a large ad, but tt never appeared in the “Public Notices” which meant it was not searchable online (advertisements outside of classified are not searchable and do not appear on Mlive, the Ann Arbor News’ portal). Therefore, any parties interested in that position could not find out more about it from any online source.

    I realize that this position was a special case (not the kind of position where any citizen could volunteer) but I think the way that opening was handled was problematic, even if it technically followed the letter of the law. It was discouraging to later read comments from the board that they were surprised at a lack of candidates when it would appear to county residents that the BOC did a bare minimum to find candidates outside of the family member who stepped forward. At a very least one should have put a true public notice. Classified ads are small type, but they are searchable and they are online.

    It appears I’m totally off-topic here, and I’m sorry for that. That episode galled some of us and added to the perception that the BOC and others in county and regional government have mixed feelings about getting new faces to share their work. I think sometimes those in government, who have an insider’s view, don’t realize that their actions can be (mis)interpreted by those outside. It is surely annoying to be criticized by people who have less-than-accurate information, and I sympathize on that count.


       —Dubious    Nov. 16 '06 - 03:31PM    #
  26. Both the Ann Arbor News and the campaign literature of Karen Lovejoy Roe reported that Wes voted in support of more than doubling the cost of road patrols to the township. The vote to eliminate road patrols was scheduled for last night and no I didn’t think Wes voted to do so when I posted yesterday afternoon before the scheduled vote.

    This morning, television and radio both reported a preliminary agreement that avoided the layoff of road patrols. No details given. Did the 3 townships sign a 4 year contract? Is Wes now on the Road Commission? Will people be circulating petitions again to force a public vote on the new jail?


       —Karen Luck    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:07PM    #
  27. An Aug 31 article in the AA News reported that Wes Prater was one of three commissioners who approached Bob Guenzel and encouraged him to make drastic cuts in the sherriff dept.

    Deputy Layoffs put on hold


       —Everybody counts!    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:40PM    #
  28. The link is wrong – my fault. You can find the article through google.


       —Everybody counts    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:44PM    #
  29. To Leah and Jeff: where are these openings posted? Only in the AA News and other papers?


       —Just a homeowner    Nov. 16 '06 - 04:53PM    #
  30. Hm, well there’s these public notices and also a Directory of Boards, Committees & Commissions and External Agencies to Which the Board Appoints Representatives.


       —Bruce Fields    Nov. 16 '06 - 05:18PM    #
  31. County board avoids deputy layoffs

    From the A2News: “County and township officials said the tentative agreement allows Ypsilanti, Augusta and Salem townships to sign patrol contracts under the same provisions as the other townships that have already inked deals with the county. But those three townships won’t give up their rights to resolve the dispute in court once they sign contracts.”


       —Murph    Nov. 16 '06 - 07:04PM    #
  32. While I understand the wishes of current county officials to put forth the ideal that appointments are made solely on the basis of merit, I hate to see the public misled. Yes, absolutely, appointments to boards and commissions are a wonderful way for citizens to participate in government and I encourage all those interested (surely the entire readership of this blog) to apply. The county has a very easily understood application process detailed on the link to ewashtenaw.org already given.

    However – (1) Most posted “openings” are actually filled by incumbents who will probably be reappointed; and (2) New appointments to the most desirable committees are filled on a political basis. The BOC chair makes the appointments but can be overruled by a majority of the BOC. Often the decisions are made after caucusing. The chair sometimes uses this power to reward or punish the commissioners who support various candidates, and may also direct this power at individual applicants. (Appointments of commissioners to committees are also political, but not the subject here.) Geographical considerations also come into play (to spread appointments around).

    The very best approach for a citizen wishing to apply is to review the possible fits of various committees with his/her experience and qualifications, and then contact her/his own commissioner to find out what the lay of the land is. If it is a genuine vacancy, ask the commissioner for support.

    Yes, some vacancies go unfilled but frankly these are often committees with little clout or interest. For example, the county Local Emergency Planning Committee is just about never filled.

    And yes, sometimes people are picked out of the pile on the basis of a good resume. But most of the time, treat it like a campaign. Get applications in early and look for support.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Nov. 16 '06 - 08:07PM    #
  33. As a resident of Ypsilanti Township and one who attended the Board of Commissioners Meeting, I became more informed on the acts of the Ypsilanti Township Board.

    1. The board chose to sign the contract. That is after more than eight hundred thousand dollars on the law suit.
    2. I wonder the dollar figure on all time spent to fight the law suit by the three elcted officials.
    3. Brenda Stumbo continued to assure the deputies, not to worry. You will be fine.
    4. Not to forget the other attorneys involved with the township. I expect that cost money.
    5. And they say they will continue, or are they saying “here Mr. Winters is a blank check”, Go for it!
    6. This board is pumped up with Winters words of winning. He is a joke and the board gives him all the money he wants. Let’s remember the GM case where he invoiced a million dollars and was paid. You remember that case.
    7. I will say it outload or type it real big! Stumbo and Winters personal relationship is indeed a conflict of interest. What is she gtting, other than the obvious?
    8. Her speech after the sigining of the contract contained the same verbage she said before the sigining. Or was that a way to flex her muscles.
    9. Shame on these officials for throwing away our money for a non-winning lawsuit.
    10. And where was Dan Minzey?? The question was asked. Thank you Mr. Sizemore.
    11. One neighborhood watch resident asked tehir residents with guns and dogs in case there was a lay off.
    12. I hope the Deputies look as to why they had to endure this issue. They were held hostage by the board.
    13. And the last I will write but I have more to say and do! Thank you to the BOC for their continued profesionalism on this case. If you took them aside they would all say, I believe. Ypsilanti Township could have save their residents money. The BOC could have saved their money, (how much was that one) if the Township signed when this all began. They held on for the big bucks to be spent. Do not send us letters to explain your actions. We are informed residents.


       —Susan Roberts    Nov. 17 '06 - 02:24PM    #
  34. Ms. Gunn,

    I will have to take exception to your statement “So it’s a very fair system” in your posting (#24). Let us take the example of Pam Ludolph, who was appointed by you and other commissioners to the Friend of the Court (FOC) Citizens advisory committee. Pam Ludolph was appointed to look into how the FOC operated. And, she was recommended by the FOC! An oversight committee made up of people recommended by those who were to be overseen ! No wonder, not a single grievance was EVER looked up. Pam Ludolph in her last 3 years on the committee was ABSENT for almost 70% of the meetings ! When I wrote to you giving details of her absence, you replied back stating that you would not remove her from the committee. Finally, when many members of the public showed up for one of the advisory committee meetings and demanded that the committee operate properly, Pam Ludolph resigned.

    You are suggesting that “it is a very fair system”, last time I looked up the dictionary, the meaning of fair did not seem to fit what was happening.


       —Srini    Nov. 17 '06 - 11:52PM    #
  35. Just as an attempt to set the record straight with regards to which Commissioners supported what and when, I would suggest that everybody who is interested should start at the source.

    You can verify how Commissioners voted on the County BOC’s pricing of police service contracts by viewing our minutes at the county website..

    I have included the links to the key votes around this police services issue. If this information differs from the information you read in the AA News or in the campaign literature of Commissioner Prater’s opponent, then perhaps those sources were inaccurate or purposely misleading.

    The most recent resolution was passed on July 5th and voted on during the June 7th and the July 5th meetings. You can find the vote on page 4. You can also see that Commissioner Prater read into the record a substantial statement explaining his “NO” vote during the June 7th meeting.

    When the County BOC passed that July 5th resolution, the county extended two offers to the townships currently suing the county over police services. One option was to simply sign the same contract that other local units had agreed to earlier. (This contract would have eventually meant that in 2009 the townships would pay 75% of the cost to put dedicated road patrol officers in their jurisdiction. The county general fund would cover the other 25% of those dedicated patrols; in addition, the county would provide “countywide services” including detectives, the Sheriff’s top brass, a pool of general road patrol officers, marine safety, court security and a few other department-wide or countywide assignments). Option two under the July 5th resolution was for the plaintiff townships to recognize the month-to-month rate for continuing to utilize Sheriff’s department resources without making the requisite 4-year commitment to support those jobs. Our month-to-month rate is $77/hour.

    During our March 1st, 2006 meeting, we adopted the pricing schedule for the last two years of the four year contract. This pricing schedule was developed through our Police Services Steering Committee. Commissioner Prater is a member of that committee as am I. Also, there are members of that committee from the Sheriff’s department, the townships who do not contract, the townships that do contract and local police agencies. Cmr. Prater voted for this resolution, but to suggest that this vote was a vote in favor of the new contract methodology is misleading. That question is most directly answered by the votes taken on July 5, 2006, August 3, 2005 and September 7, 2005. Throughout this steering committee process, the county gave ground on the price for contracted deputies based on an urge to set our prices near to the prices charged by other similar counties. Therefore, this vote is more properly described as endorsing a further financial compromise by the county that set prices more palatable to townships.

    The September 7, 2005 resolution on police services and the “August 3, 2005” resolution on police services are probably the votes to look at if you’re trying to determine who supported the new police service methodology and who didn’t. You can link to the text of those resolutions within the pdf document that contains the minutes if you want to know exactly what we passed. You’ll see that Commissioner Prater voted NO on those resolutions. I voted YES.

    There you have it. The hotlinked history of votes cast. I will add that this is a very complicated issue. Mistakes and misunderstandings are bound to occur. For instance, the Ann Arbor News story on Thursday missed the mark by stating that the ‘county is phasing out the subsidy for police patrols.’ For the most part, that article was factual and informative; but I felt as though that statement, which also became a subheading, left the impression that at the end of some process there would be no subsidy to local units who contract for police services. That is certainly not accurate.


       —Jeff Irwin    Nov. 18 '06 - 01:35AM    #
  36. Jeff,

    Thanks in general for taking the time to post on AU and specifically for providing the links to the minutes of particular meetings.

    There’s a world of difference between starting at the menu for BOC Minutes
    and knowing which meetings’ minutes start reading through.


       —HD    Nov. 18 '06 - 03:35AM    #
  37. Sometimes commissioners don’t actually vote the way they say they voted.

    I discovered this after reading, County eliminates IT department from the Ypsilanti Courier. The article describes how the Board of Commissioners eliminated its ITS department after being advised to do so by its consulting firm. The article states the vote was 8-1 with Commissioner Ronnie Peterson being the “lone vote against the measure”.

    However, a look at the minutes shows that the commissioners’ vote on the decision to eliminate the jobs was unanimous. Page 13 of the PDF shows that all nine of the commissioners that were present, including Mr. Peterson, voted in favor of Resolution 03-0114, authorizing the cuts.

    I sent an email to Commissioner Peterson, asking for an explanation of this discrepancy, but never received a response.


       —Michael Schils    Dec. 5 '06 - 12:46AM    #
  38. The discrepancy is probably in the newspaper reporting, not the actions taken. The official minutes reflect how Commisisoners voted. Another explanation is that perhaps Cmsr. Peterson voted “no” at the Ways and Means Committee and voted “yes” at the Board of Commissioners meeting. You need to check the official record, not rely on the newspaper.


       —Leah Gunn    Dec. 5 '06 - 01:19AM    #
  39. The county board’s Ways and Means Committee consists of the entire board, and its meetings are held in the same room, prior to the “full board” meeting. Most items are voted on twice: first at Ways & Means, and then (often later that same evening) by the full board.

    Not surprisingly, the first vote is usually the contested one that settles the issue. By the time the second vote is held, the side that lost the first vote typically has given up and doesn’t bother dissenting.

    Also, contrary to what the official minutes portray, the full board usually holds a single roll call covering many items. Thus, a single spoken “yes” vote (at the end of a long meeting) applies to a large number of proposals. If someone wants to cast a mixed vote, they have to interrupt the roll call to explain that they’re voting “no” on #9 and #17 and “yes” on all the rest, something most commissioners rarely do.

    In effect, the full board, just before going home, votes to ratify all of the evening’s decisions.

    Interested citizens and interest groups who want to analyze the voting records of commissioners are well advised to pay attention to the Ways and Means vote, not the full board vote.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 5 '06 - 07:50AM    #
  40. For what it’s worth, I strongly agree with the county board’s 2003 decision to eliminate the ITS department. Admittedly, a few good people lost their jobs, but the whole thing had to be wiped out root and branch.

    Even one of the people who was dismissed confided to me that the county was better off without it.

    Chopping it out saved a ton of money, sure, but that was a beneficial side effect. The main goal was to have techs serving county government who are polite, honest, and actually show up to cope with problems. Now, we have that.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 5 '06 - 08:22AM    #
  41. OK, so let me get this straight. So you’re both saying that when commissioner Peterson told the newspaper that he voted against firing everyone in the ITS department, he was actually referring to his vote on the Ways and Means committee (Page 3), and not to his actual vote on the resolution (page 13)?

    I wonder if the Ypsi newspaper knew that they were actually reporting Peterson’s relatively insignificant committee vote, rather than his actual vote on the resolution?

    The article states, “Peterson objected that the information about the job cuts had come to his desk only a week before the meeting and said the issue had come up too quickly to make an informed decision about it”. But the minutes show that Peterson voted in favor of the resolution. So contrary to the article, he must have in fact thought he was informed enough to make the decision?

    And yes, it is easy to agree that job cuts are a “good idea” unless you’re the one actually getting fired, and then it’s not such a good idea. Larry, I infer from your comments that you think the fired ITS workers were *NOT “polite and honest” and did not “actually show up to cope with problems”. Was this the basis for Plante and Moran’s decision to recommend the department’s elimination? Did the consulting group interview the workers and discover that they lacked politeness, honesty, and a determination to cope with problems? I doubt it. The recommendations were probably based more on the usual—$$$. Correct me if I’m wrong, the consulting group’s recommendations don’t appear to be available, online.

    Were the progressive discipline procedures of the contract followed and were these “impolite and dishonest” workers written up the sufficient number of times before they were fired? I doubt that they were. Leah Gunn, correct me if I’m wrong in my assumption that the union contract was not adhered to when these workers were fired.

    These workers lost their jobs because of the gross ineffectiveness of their union. As seen in the article , AFSCME local President Robert Brabbs is fond of airing his gripes to the newspaper, but as far as actually doing something, that’s a different story. Despite the seeming merit to Brabbs’ objections, the Unfair Labor Charge referred to in the minutes was later abandoned by AFSCME. But like the commissioner’s “No” vote, the charges served their immediate purpose of representing to the constituency that its rights were being protected.


       —Michael Schils    Dec. 5 '06 - 05:42PM    #
  42. You still have it wrong. It’s the committee vote which is significant, and the board vote which is insignificant.

    I’m as pro-union as anyone here, but it’s not up to the union how the county government is organized, or to veto changes in the structure. The county now gets enormously better tech support from a much smaller (still unionized) staff — isn’t that a decision the elected representatives of county taxpayers has the authority to make?

    The rudeness and unresponsiveness of the ITS department was legend in Washtenaw County. And yes, I was repeatedly lied to by ITS staff when I was a commissioner (2000-02), and so were many others. Any time their help was asked, they lied to make the requester go away.

    I prefer to blame bad departmental culture rather than the specific individuals who were trapped in it. Perhaps they came across as rude because they were defensive about the lying. I noticed that when you pressed them for details about something, they got ruder. Possibly some of them just didn’t have the technical skills for the jobs they were supposed to be doing.

    I complained about all this, frequently, to Administration and to the other commissioners. Everyone would nod and sigh like it was a hopeless problem. When Plante and Moran were brought in, I gave their guy an earful of all the problems with ITS, atrocity story after atrocity story. He only seemed bored by it all. I didn’t expect much from the study, and so I was stunned and gratified when radical action was taken.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 5 '06 - 06:25PM    #
  43. Thank you, Larry for your history concerning the IT Dept. We didn’t actually get rid of the department – we eliminated all the then current positions, rewrote job descriptions to better fit the technological needs of the County, and filled those newly created positions. This was all done within the union contract because it is the Board of Commissioners’ prerogative to create and eliminate positions. We do it all the time. This was just radical, for the reasons that Larry outlined. In the big picture, Cmsr.’ Perterson’s vote is inconsequential. It’s done, the department functions very well, and it has won national awards for its sccomplishments.


       —Leah Gunn    Dec. 5 '06 - 11:10PM    #
  44. Apparently to the County, there’s nothing worse than a whole department of rude techie geeks who do a lousy job and seem to be incapable of telling the truth. So the County’s solution was to just fire the whole wretched bunch and start over!

    Ms. Gunn, considering the disdain expressed by you both regarding the conduct of the former ITS department, it would seem that the resolution to cut the jobs would be regarded as DISCIPLINARY. The County was fed up with job the ITS was doing (and with their rudeness and dishonesty), so their positions were eliminated. The union contract sets out the disciplinary sequence to be taken against employees as follows:

    1) Oral Warning.
    2) Written Reprimand.
    3) Suspension.
    4) Removal and Discharge.

    With the resolution, the County effectively by-passed the first three steps and gave the employment equivalent of the death penalty (geek genocide?) to THE ENTIRE DEPARTMENT!!! Apparently, the commissioners weren’t interested in hearing any explanations from the ITS employees regarding the perceived rudeness and dishonesty of the department, nor was the board interested in determining IF EVERY LAST EMPLOYEE in the department was in fact afflicted with the “bad departmental culture” Mr. Kestenbaum speaks of.

    Ms. Gunn, if the union president wasn’t an idiot, this is the argument he would have put forth in the unfair labor charge he filed. He would have charged that the County’s disciplinary act of terminating the entire ITS department was arbitrary, excessive, and didn’t follow the disciplinary guidelines put forth in the union contract. But Mr. Brabbs filed a ULC that reflected his general ineptitude, and the charge was subsequently abandoned.

    Ms. Gunn, your claim that “this was all done within the union contract because it is the Board of Commissioners’ prerogative to create and eliminate positions” is disputable. Such a broad use of this “prerogative” could potentially nullify the entire union contract. Management could simply eliminate the positions of anyone who disagrees with them and there would no longer be a need to bargain with the union. That’s why courts will look at management decisions like this for an “abuse of discretion” and will usually require a showing by management that the salaries for the eliminated positions could no longer be paid because of a shortage of funds. But in this case the union, with its manifested incompetence, let you and the rest of the board off the hook.


       —Michael Schils    Dec. 6 '06 - 10:42PM    #
  45. You still have it wrong. It’s the committee vote which is significant, and the board vote which is insignificant.“-Post#42, 1st paragraph—Larry Kestenbaum

    Larry, in your earlier post#39, you concede that it is the “full board” and not the committee that ratifies all of the decisions. By your own admission, you agree that the board vote is the *official vote. So with your insistence on sticking with the unusual position that the board vote is relatively insignificant, I can only guess that you are sticking up for the commissioner who has shown no inclination to stick up for himself.

    In the same post, you laid more importance on the committee vote, as you say it is “usually the contested one that settles the issue”. You then deem the board vote that follows as relatively less important “because by the time the second vote is held, the side that lost the first vote typically has given up and doesn’t bother dissenting.”

    So this must be the explanation you are offering up for commissioner Peterson, as to why he told the Ypsi newspaper that he voted against the resolution. You are suggesting that Peterson must have only told the newspaper about his *significant vote, which in your expressed opinion was his committee vote. The fact that Peterson apparently reversed his position immediately after that and voted with the rest of the board in favor of the resolution is in your opinion “insignificant”, regardless of the fact that it was the only *official vote. You then buttress this defense you have constructed for the commissioner by adding that “at the end of a long meeting” commissioners can respond to a number of proposals with a single spoken vote. However, you say, if a commissioner wants to vote differently than the rest, then they “have to interrupt the roll call to explain” which you add is “something most commissioners rarely do.” So you have introduced the possibility that after a long day, commissioner Peterson just didn’t see the need to continue his dissent, and go through all the trouble of entering his lone vote against the job cuts, so he just voted with the rest of the board.

    Well there you have it—a plausible explanation for why the commissioner’s vote was reported differently in the newspaper, than what the actual minutes (page 13) show. And the best thing about this for commissioner Peterson is that he didn’t even have to come on here and say a thing.

    Could a similar situation have occured on a national level, in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq? Were there really more democrats who were against the unprovoked military action, but who didn’t want to interrupt the roll call, to cast a different vote? Here all this time I just thought they were spine-less.


       —Michael Schils    Dec. 6 '06 - 11:11PM    #