Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

How will the county to deal with the projected deficit?

12. June 2009 • Chuck Warpehoski
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Due primarily to a county-wide decline in property values, Washtenaw County is facing a projected $26 million deficit in the 2010/2011 budget cycle. More on the County’s Financial Status & Projected Deficits

On June 3, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners was presented with Phase 1 of the plan to close this projected deficit. Phase 1 represents $14.5 million in savings, leaving $11.5 million to be addressed. Commissioners approved the recommendations at Ways and Means and will take up the measures before the full board on July 8.

Highlights of the Phase 1 proposals (view the resolution for complete details):

  • Maximizing Revenue Opportunities Target $4,384,409
  • Department Identified Expenditure Reductions $ $6,766,259
  • Non-Union Employee Compensation & Benefit Modifications $4,716,090
  • Major Organizational Changes $958,000

Phase 2 recommendations will include a combination of compensation and benefits concessions (dependent upon negotiations between the county and 17 bargaining units) and other program changes up to and including elimination of whole programs and/or departments. A list of some of the programs and departments that may be eliminated is on page 3 of the executive summary.

The entire budget presentation at the June 3rd Ways & Means meeting may be viewed on the County’s archived webcast. The PowerPoint Presentation, Executive Summary, Board Resolutions and accompanying Memorandum is available on the County’s 2010/2011 Budget Process web site.



  1. Two administrative notes:
    1. I get no credit for this post, it was a very good submission to the ArborUpdate editorial collective.

    2. If you want to get something published, this is a good example of what to do. This post is not polemical or slanted, it provided data to spark community discussion.

    That said, discuss.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jun. 12 '09 - 09:05PM    #
  2. Thanks for this, though you ruined my evening. The county was already suffering from loss of state revenue sharing when I retired from the BOC in 2004, and I had already had to vote to eliminate a lot more jobs than I wanted to. This is now at the level of a catastrophic collapse, potentially eliminating vital (if not mandated by law) services.

    In many ways, the history of the county’s finances resembles that of our entire national economy. I took office in 1997, as we began a boom that was fueled by sprawl – aka the housing bubble. Sprawl pushed the county’s receipts to a level that supported an expansion of county government involvement in many enterprises (social welfare, economic development, and a huge building program).

    The budget director’s favorite saying was “The best predictor of the future is the past”. (He actually wrote that down in many budget statements.) Using this assumption, he forecast ever-growing revenues and these optimistic projections supported more and more commitment to long-term expenditures. I often protested, but as a recent commenter to the Ann Arbor Chronicle noted, no one becomes popular during a boom by suggesting that one should save for a rainy day. The collapse in housing values, post-bubble, is the major cause of the current problems – paired with those long-term commitments.

    Too bad for our county, and our country, that we were the grasshoppers instead of the ants.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 13 '09 - 10:19AM    #
  3. So here is one of my recommendations (and I’ve talked to some over at the County about it): I believe the County subsidizes parking for downtown employees at about $100 per employee, per month (the City subsidizes many downtown City employees at about 60% a month).

    So, if there are 300 County employees that work downtown that receive this subsidy, that’s $360,000 that the County is paying for parking for County Employees. I know this is a drop in the bucket relative to the funding issue, but if the County considered reducing this amount, there could at least be some cost savings. County employees receive go!passes, so they could park at a Park and Ride Lot and bus to work, and the County could find ways to adjust schedules to accommodate this.

    I am sure that there are Union negotiations involved in this, but I think it would be a reasonable request, in light of the County’s crisis. Especially now that there are also Zipcars downtown (one being about a block away from the County’s main office).

    However, I also know that just cutting costs is not going to solve the problem, we obviously need more revenue coming into the County. I wish I had more thoughts about this one.


       —Nancy    Jun. 15 '09 - 01:21PM    #
  4. A good idea, Nancy, though as you indicate it may not be so simple, especially because I think some of those spaces go to court employees and deputies who are part of the police officers’ union. That union is very difficult to negotiate with because any union agreement is subject to arbitration re state law. For that reason, those union members have always enjoyed superb job benefits.

    The Ann Ashley structure was built on county land so the county has a special arrangement for some of its spaces. I’m not clear whether the county pays for the spaces. Also, some of the county downtown parking is on county-owned land, so though there are expenses involved, it is not equivalent to a simple payment subsidy.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 15 '09 - 03:12PM    #
  5. The county Adminstration has repeatly showed poor judgement in the decisions they make and they are attacking the Unions to make them pay for Guenzel’s mistakes. THE COUNTY ADMINSTATION AND THE BOC NEEDS TO STOP BLAMING THE UNIONS AND PUT THE BLAME WHERE IT BELONGS WITH GUENZEL.
    Guenzel is stating that NON Unions are taking cuts and the Unions need to take the same cuts. What is not told to the public is that for manys years the Non Union pay increase are almost always 2 – 5 percent in addition to pay for performance. At the same time, Union employees were lucky to get 2% and RECEIVED NO PAY RAISE LAST YEAR AT ALL and this year received 0.05% (yes, 0.05% NOT 0.5%) What does Bob’s adminstration do to save money? They re-do their offices due to the leaving of the $200,000 Behen, (gotta have a new leather chair, right Bob).

    Make the cuts fair, when the cost from the Non Union to the Union equals out (when they are equal to the amounts we have lost in the past including small wage increases) then the Union members will be willing to at least listen.

    DO NOT KEEP BLAMING THE UNION FOR YOUR POOR JUDGEMENT. THE COUNTY WAS TOLD SEVERAL YEARS AGO BY EQUALIZATION WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN AND THEY STILL KEEP BUILdING BOB’S LITTLE KINGDOM.

    The county adminstration has supposely spent a million dollars on redoing the Towner Office in Ypsilanti, by putting new cabinets, carpets, new floor mats, new phones (there was a room piled high with the old phones), this building has been redone at least 3 times in the last 10 years. The JAIL that Guenzel is building was voted down by county residents, (do you think that the $12,000,000 crisis may have something to do with that). Bob Guenzel, whom, in his wisdom decided to built the JAIL,(which they won’t be to fill it because they won’t have the money to pay for the staff). A sitution which is just like the ZEEB RD BUILDING, (which is 3/4 empty at this time.)

    The county wastes money everyday, how much do you think the land scaping cost is for the county. Get over looking good and put down plain grass, not trees and plants that have special requirements with expensive pricetags attached.
    Nobody needs to have food and drink at meetings unless it paid by grant money.

    Stop the use of color printers and copiers. People do not need embossed certificate in color when they take a class, send a email to me. If my boss wants it, it sure is less expensive than getting through the county mail system (another waste of money). Stop the use of county cars by staff (Vera’s car) recently went to one of the offices in which a car is needed to provide services, not because the Deputy wants to do some shopping in a County car. The county empolyees have to take stupid survey every few years to judge how the county is working (called the OCS). Half the staff don’t fill it out because it does not make any diffences and the othef half (few really tell how they feel) because they are afraid of becoming a target. (I know this has happend, the county will deny but serveral supervisors have really dumped on the employees after the surveys) SO STOP THE SURVEY. STOP HAVING REPEAT SURVEYS DONE UNTIL YOU GET THE ANSWER THAT THE COUNTY WANTS TO HEAR. Many reports to the county including the county OCS has stated that the county is management heavy (NON-UNION), they won’t listen. The counties states that is laying off 24 Non Union, ten which are vacant and then they are adding 2 new Non-Union jobs. (So they give up 10 total). Their average pay is between $80,000 to $100,000. Stop picking on the same groups (most of whom the average pay is between $30,000 to $40,000)to take the cuts. Most support staff are already doing at least 2 employees work and YOU want to add more.

    PLEASE PEOPLE OF WASHTENAW COUNTY, DEMAND A REAL ACCOUNT OF THE BUDGET, FOUND OUT THE COST OF THE JAIL AND THE COST OF OTHER BUILDING IN THE COUNTY. DEMAND TO KNOW PEOPLES SALARIES AND HOW MUCH THEY HAVE BE PAID IN YEARLY INCREASES (NOBODY DESERVE $5,000 OR MORE IN A PAY FOR PERFORMANCE INCREASES). MAKE THE COUNTY STOP HIDING BEHIND ALL THE ACCOUNTING GARBAGE THEY PUT OUT. IT IS REALLY SIMPLE, IN MONEY, OUT MONEY. WHY ARE WE PAYING FOR DIFFRENT TP IN THE BOC BATHROOMS AND BOTTLED WATER IN MANY BUILDINGS. GET PISSED OFF NOW…..or soon, well the people of the county will suffer, especially the poorer ones, and it might be you.


       —suzu    Jun. 15 '09 - 06:52PM    #
  6. Stop paying Israel billions each year. That is a place to start.

    Why should US tax payers give millions (or billions) to Israel when all it does with it is to kill people?


       —Don't pay Israel!    Jun. 15 '09 - 10:51PM    #
  7. I am not aware of any county taxpayer dollars going to any foreign entity.


       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 15 '09 - 11:13PM    #
  8. The federal government pays Israel and Egypt a large foreign aid payment as a result of the peace treaty negotiated by President Jimmy Carter. This is completely irrelevant to county finance issues. Let’s not get into an off-topic discussion, please. It’s not respectful of the people who contribute to this blog, much less those who maintain it.

    Apologies for off-topic comment: THANKS to you guys who maintain Arbor Update. You make a contribution.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 16 '09 - 01:30AM    #
  9. [This comment was offtopic here, and has been moved to the Co-op elections thread, a more appropriate home. Read the full comment at this link -MH ]
       —Michael Schils    Jun. 16 '09 - 03:43AM   
    #
  10. It seems pretty clear from the entry above, that there is a great deal of frustration, along with misinformation about the County’s budget, and its history. I would urge anyone who has an interest in this very diifficult budget process to go to the web site created to keep employees and citizens informed. www.ewashtenaw.org/budget


       —Joanna Bidlack    Jun. 16 '09 - 08:40PM    #
  11. Thanks to Arbor Update for posting this – I’ll be checking back regularly. As just one elected official on the County BOC, I am certainly “listening” and eager for any information or ideas that might be helpful.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 16 '09 - 11:17PM    #
  12. Jeff: Do you believe that county budgetary problems were a factor in the County Commission not renewing your tenure as chairman despite your expressed desire to continue?


       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 16 '09 - 11:32PM    #
  13. It is worth noting that Joanna Bidlack is Bob Guenzel’s superbly capable administrative assistant (or analyst). I agree that it is well worth reading the material available on the county website (already noted in the original post). The Background portion of the resolution contains a good deal of useful history.

    Regarding item #12: it is my opinion that county budgetary problems had nothing to do with the change in leadership. Jeff was a very effective chair, but the balance of power on the BOC shifted with changes in its makeup.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jun. 17 '09 - 01:19AM    #
  14. Mark: I don’t think that the budgetary problems were a factor in the Washtenaw County BOC’s decision to elect Rolland Sizemore Jr. over myself.

    Since you asked, I think that the major factors were a tradition of passing leadership off after two years (which I chose unsuccessfully to challenge) and the debates over how to pay for police services in Washtenaw County.

    As you may know, how to pay for the rising costs of police patrols at the county has been a focal point of debate for the Washtenaw County BOC. Since roughly 70% of the population covers their own policing needs and costs through their municipal government, and since about 10% of the county’s tax dollars go to help the other 30% pay for their police patrols, it is a highly charged issue. It is especially charged for those communities that receive the benefit of reduced price policing from the county.

    When I arrived on the BOC, the county paid about half of the costs of providing police patrols in areas without a police department. Now, the county pays in the neighborhood of 25% of the costs. That narrowing of the gap between cost and cost recovery has been a painful experience for all involved – especially those that are paying more today than they were in years past.

    Even though a vast majority of citizens are on the short end this relationship, the interests of those receiving the lower cost patrols are more focused and intense.

    As a result, the county BOC slid backwards towards less cost recovery when we extended current patrol contracts with a 2% escalation in costs for 2010 (we did this late last year and in my estimate the increase is at best half of the true cost escalation). That means that for 2010, the county will have to eliminate in the neighborhood of an additional $250K from other worthy programs to increase our support to the communities that contract with us for police patrols.

    We are currently in the process of developing the data necessary to come to terms on new contracts for 2011 and beyond. The outcome of this process is a big component of our budget; and, the election of Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. to the chairmanship might be an indication that the county will be redirecting even more resources towards dealing with crime in some communities (because he represents Ypsilanti Twp, the most populous of the communities relying on the county for patrols).

    I certainly hope that we can preserve our investments in programs that prevent crime and provide opportunity for our struggling citizens. Otherwise, the rest of us will be left struggling with how to pay for our collective failure.

    So, in short, there are some philosophical and realpolitik elements of these questions. The majority on these issues – either way – tends to be razor thin. I fell on the wrong side of the blade this time but it is important to mention that it was not an acrimonious transition.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 17 '09 - 07:48PM    #
  15. Jeff, what is the county going to do about the projected decrease in rent revenue when the District Court ceases becoming a tenant at the county building? Is a new tenant being lined up or sought?

    Are there other vacant county properties that can be leased to provide neded revenues?

    Are there vacant, unused, or underused county properties that can be sold to raise revenue, including park lands?

    How about layoffs or salary reductions of county workers where that is possible?


       —John Dory    Jun. 20 '09 - 05:29PM    #
  16. John, all of the considerations you mention have been elements of discussion amongst Commissioners, Administration and the entire county organization.

    As far as the revenue from the District Court lease in the downtown courthouse, the county will be losing roughly 450K annually. How we will make up that revenue is a discussion that the Judges and Commissioners have been having for years. One idea is to consolidate the Platt Rd. Juvenile Center functions downtown. This move would likely cause some operational savings and some customer service considerations such as parking.

    Naturally, this would leave the Platt Rd. facility in mothballs and – as has been pointed out in this thread – our Zeeb Rd. facility is underutilized. As you suggest, this could be viewed as an opportunity to liquidate public lands to “provide needed revenues.” I don’t favor selling property as a strategy to balance the budget. Such a strategy is not financially sustainable and pushes the same budget difficulties into the future (with greater magnitude and fewer assets to fall back upon). Park lands are the responsibility of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and – quite wisely – out of our reach.

    Reductions in the county workforce are also under consideration. At our June 3rd meeting, we eliminated 26 positions. This action is building upon the last few years of cuts and reductions in the county workforce. As ‘suzu’ pointed out, many county staff – particularly those in “support service” functions such as IT or HR – are already doing what used to be multiple jobs because of reductions in recent years. As an example, the County BOC eliminated 25% of the IT staff when this economic slide started. Therefore, one of the toughest parts of this budget is that so many of the opportunities to do more with less have already been pushed to the maximum.

    The Board’s direction for many years has been to make reductions first in areas that least affect direct services to citizens. Most of those operations have already been greatly reduced by previous rounds of cuts.

    Salary reductions are also on the table. At our June 3rd meeting, County Administrator Guenzel proposed that all non-union employees not receive a scheduled 3% raise and take a 3% salary reduction. In addition, non-union staff would forgo pay-for-performance). The Board approved those recommendations at the Ways and Means committee, setting up a final vote on the matter in July.

    The county is also actively engaging our union groups to determine if there are any compensation concessions that they are willing to make in this final year of a three year contract. These concessions could obviously help avoid reductions in the workforce. However, these concessions will be difficult for the union to make because their last three year contract was structured as a 0-0-3% and many county employees have been waiting for a couple years on a promised salary bump this year. I certainly hope that the union groups will determine that this economic situation is one that justifies extraordinary flexibility on their part. Those discussions are ongoing.

    That’s the truncated version. As always, I am available to chat with anybody who might help me make the best possible decisions as a member of the BOC.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 20 '09 - 10:12PM    #
  17. Jeff has done a great job of explaining what we have done so far, in Phase I of the budget adjustments (cuts) for 2010/11. On June 3, in addition to imposing on the non-union employees the the cuts of the 3% raise for 2010, and a 3% cut in that same year, for 2011, we have imposed a further 2% salary cut and will require the employees to begin payng $50.00 a month for their health care. We have also agreed to change to a less costly health care plan.

    And, just so people don’t get the idea that this is simply a response to the recent horrible economic conditions out there, the following positions have been eliminated over the years:

    2002: 113
    2003: 303
    2004: 216
    2005: 70
    2006: 97
    2007: 98
    2008: 127
    2009: 21

    Add to that the 26 eliminations so far for 2010/11 (just the beginning) and we have eliminated 1071 positions since 2002. This leaves us with a workforce of about 1300 people.

    It is very difficult to provide the necessary services, including both mandatory and non-mandatory, that I believe we need to do. These are extraordinary times, and demand for human services, especially, is putting a great burden on both us and the local non-profits to deliver them. Add to this less money from the state, and you get the idea. (We administer many state human service programs such as public and mental health, as well as federal program such as WIC, Head Start, etc.) Not all expenses are covered, and we underwrite many of these to maintain quality programs. In addition, many of these programs require a local match. We have also, in the past, allocated about $1,000,000 from our General Fund to various human service agencies, as well as additional money to the Shelter and Safe House (we own both buildings). The local non-profits, as you can imagine, are finding an expoential increase in demand for their services.

    Our property tax income will not recover for a very long time. The reason for that is that even if property values recover rapidly (which is unlikely), Proposal A prohibits us from raising taxes more than 5% a year or at the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Right now, inflation is low, and probably will remain so.

    In addition the Appropriations Committee of the Michigan Senate recently recommended reducing the counties’ revenue sharing payback (a complicated procedure – we began collecting taxes in July instead of December and put those aside in a trust fund to “substitute” for revenue sharing, with a promise that we would be paid back). This had amounted to over $3M a year. I predicted at the time that we would never see that money, and it appears that we will be losing at least some of it.

    This is the challenge of all local governments which rely on property taxes for their income. This includes the library (see the AA Chronicle), the AATA, the Parks & Rec. Dept., Natural Areas, and Washtenaw Community College, as well as the county, and local cities and townships. Add to that the closing of Pfizer, which was the county’s largest taxpayer, and the bankruptcy of Visteon, as well as the threatened closure of Powertrain – it’s not just taxes, it’s jobs for our residents.

    So, as you see, it is a very complicated business, and to those who seek more information, check out our web site at www.ewashtenaw.org

    I would also like to commend Arbor Update for allowing us elected officials to provide information and express our opinions. We are prohibited from writing letters to the editor by the policy of the Ann Arbor News, and they are not very comprehensive in their local coveage, especially of county government. I appreciate this opportunity to pass along some information.


       —Leah Gunn    Jun. 21 '09 - 11:44AM    #
  18. Jeff, I noticed that there were some very high legal bills that were generated as a result of the protracted litigation before Judge Costello in Monroe County that had been commenced by Dan Minzey.

    What has the county done for cost containment in these types of matters? Did the county consider using in-house counsel or smaller firms with lower billing rates as opposed to “silk-stocking” law firms and will it consider doing so in the future? Is there a competitive bidding process used in the hiring of law firms for county litigation? What I have seen is that law firms hired by counties and municipalities often have political connections to obtain these lucrative accounts. Insurance companies very often retain law firms at half the rate of the large elite firms.

    It would also help to include arbitration clauses with vendors and in labor contracts to avoid costly and protracted court litigation. Arbitration is a streamlined process which is concluded on a cheaper basis. If the Minzey case had been arbitrated the litigation costs would not only have been cheaper, but arbitration proceedings could have been private and the acrimony not been splashed all over the media.

    Better training for Sheriff’s deputies and a togher disciplinary system to punish unprofesssional behavior could avoid multi-million dollar payoffs when law enforcement misconduct is alleged and proven. I imagine liabilty insurance premiums would be a lot cheaper absent these continuous flow of civil rights litigation against the county from citizens alleging brutality or other victimization by deputies.

    Finally, how about a voluntary pay cut of Board of Commission members’ salaries as an example of leadership? You would certainly score points with citizens for doing so.


       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 22 '09 - 07:53PM    #
  19. Mark –
    1. We already cut our salaries on June 3.

    2. The so-called “silk stocking” law firm that defended us against the suit from the three townships gave us a good deal, and the lead attorney charged us much less than his usual hourly fee. We also used the time of our Corp. Counsel as well as that of our County Administrator, who is also a graduate of the UM Law School.

    3. The “Minzey case” was not a labor case. He sued US and we had to defend ourselves. He refused arbitration and demanded a court hearing.

    In the case of the two suits, Washtnaw County won hands down as the counts were all summarily dismissed.

    3.Guess what! We have a new Sheriff, and he is doing exactly what you nmention – molding the dept. into a more professional organization. I believe that is why we elected him.


       —Leah Gunn    Jun. 22 '09 - 10:06PM    #
  20. Ms. Gunn, please provide some examples of what the new sheriff has done to prevent another incident similar to what happened 3 years ago in West Willow. Besides the fact that he hasn’t filed, and is unlikely to file a lawsuit against you, what in your mind makes Clayton different than Minzey?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Minzey was responsible for putting the video cameras in the patrol cars. This is still another way Minzey cost the County money, as there would have been no $4Mil settlement or costly court battles to litigate if there had not been cameras in the cars to record what happened in West Willow that night.

    Ms. Gunn, how did the West Willow incident influence the County’s policies regarding the patrol car cameras? Did you and your fellow commissioners ever discuss the cameras? Did you discuss the need for more cameras, or less cameras, or did you talk about taking them out completely? (Which could possibly save the County a lot of money from future lawsuits.)

    I’m reserving judgment on Clayton until he takes action on the internal investigations that are apparently still pending.


       —Michael Schils    Jun. 23 '09 - 10:41PM    #
  21. Mark,

    Leah Gunn pretty much covered your questions, but since you asked me specifically I feel the need to pile on more.

    The legal department question is an interesting one. The county utilizes the model whereby we have one internal Corporation Counsel who basically contracts out cases once they get to the point where litigation is unavoidable. His main expertise is municipal law and keeping the county’s policies and actions in accordance with that law. When it comes to litigating, we hire experts in the relevant field (labor law, contracts, etc.)

    This is as opposed to hiring a group of attorneys to handle as much as possible “in house.” I believe that our model is the more cost effective one, especially when – as Leah Gunn points out – we have a very able attorney as County Administrator to back up and buttress Mr. Hedger’s considerable expertise.

    As far as cost containment goes – these are ongoing discussions. For instance, when Ypsilanti Twp took outrageously extensive depositions of everybody remotely involved in the matter – we had only one outside counsel present while Ypsilanti Twp had two or three present. Also, while the Twp ordered video for the depositions, we settled for transcripts. I still wonder how much they paid the videographer. There are many examples like this – on this one case – where we contained costs because Ypsilanti Twp was advancing a hopeless, spurious claim and it’s always good to be conservative with the public’s money. Also, despite our very strong position in the case, we offered numerous times in both formal an informal ways to settle, mediate or otherwise resolve the dispute without wasting millions of public dollars on lawyers.

    As far as the training issues and the use of in car cameras and the like, the Board of Commissioners has been very supportive of these measures. Personally, I am very hopeful that Sheriff Clayton will utilize his considerable expertise in police training to implement a first rate training regime for the WCSO. With respect to the cameras, you might be surprised to know that these technologies are recommended by our Risk Management team. In fact, we intend to continue expanding our use of cameras in cars and interview rooms. The idea is that we reduce our overall liability by consistently creating a record of events at every traffic stop, interrogation or the like. When the business of the WCSO is conducted in a professional manner – as it is usually – then we will be protected from frivolous charges. When deputies or investigators cross the line of professionalism or worse, then we (including the Sheriff) know for sure what they have done and can act in accordance with that certainty.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 24 '09 - 05:13PM    #
  22. Regarding the video cameras in the patrol cars, please be more specific. I see that in 2000, twenty cameras were put into patrol cars, but my search for the terms ‘cameras’ and ‘sheriff’ did not seem to turn up any other results. So is this correct? Do only 20 patrol cars have cameras installed in them? What percentage of the total patrol cars is this? Apparently the West Willow incident brought no discussion or change in policy. Is this true?

    The idea that the “cameras reduce overall liability” is definitely “pre-West Willow”-thinking. If the camera footage had not been there to contradict the officers’ reports and testimony, there would have been no $4,000,000.00 settlement or costly litigation. In our courts, the words of Law Enforcement always trumps the words of citizens, so the cameras were not needed to combat “frivolous” charges. In fact, it is nearly impossible for a citizen to be successful in bringing misconduct charges without video evidence.

    And my question to Ms. Gunn was; what specifically has Sheriff Clayton done to prevent another incident like happened in West Willow? This was in response to Ms. Gunn’s very generalized claim that Clayton is “molding the dept. into a more professional organization”. Ms. Gunn has not yet responded. Mr. Irwin, your statement that you are “very hopeful” regarding Clayton makes it appear that he hasn’t really done anything yet.

    Politically speaking, Sheriff Clayton’s hands may be tied regarding the West Willow incident and the pending internal investigation. Clayton had the support of the Prosecutor when he unseated Minzey in the election. If Clayton issues firm discipline against any of the officers involved, then that will not shine well on Brian Mackie, who declined to press any charges regarding the entire West Willow incident. Another undesirable effect of any substantial findings by Clayton regarding misconduct, would be that more civil suits may be filed, and of course, no one at Washtenaw wants that.


       —Michael Schils    Jun. 25 '09 - 05:36PM    #
  23. In his report to the BOC, Sheriff Clayton indicated that he was doing many training and education meetings to create a professional group of deputies, and also said that they were responding to his leadership. Please remember that the incident to which you are referring took place when Dan Minzey was Sheriff, and he did NOT do this kind of work, and did NOT display leadership to his department.

    All I can say is that what I have heard from the Sheriff directly, as well as from various people in the department as well as from other people in local law enforcement that there is a great deal of respect for Sheriff Clayton and his methods of training. Remember that he was doing this on a national basis before he was elected.

    As to West Willow, please be advised that his Officer in charge of Community Relations lives in that neighborhood.

    I would suggest that you drop this nonsense about his “not doing anything” unless you have proof otherwise.


       —Leah Gunn    Jun. 25 '09 - 07:02PM    #
  24. Ms. Gunn, why didn’t you provide a link to the report by Clayton you refer to, so others can decide if it is as meaningful as you think it is? Or has it not been released for public view? You say Clayton claims to “create a professional group of deputies”, who are “responding to his leadership”. Could you be any more vague with these platitudes, Ms. Gunn? What does any of this mean exactly and how does it specifically relate to what happened in West Willow?

    You say you’ve talked to a lot of people who have “respect for Sheriff Clayton and his methods of training”. Well, so what? I’m sure you gave the same generalized sort of endorsement to Minzey, too, before he made clear he was no longer going to be controlled by you and your fellow commissioners. But how does this specifically relate to West Willow? How exactly will Clayton’s training prevent another similar incident?

    Your statement that the Officer in charge of Community Relations lives in West Willow – as if this is proof that everything has been mended between that neighborhood and the sheriff’s department – baffles me. Please explain the significance. Does this person have a name? What has (s)he done?

    Here are some other voices from West Willow. From this article, Mildred Williams, president of the Ypsilanti-Willow Run Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had this to say, after the acquittal of Joseph Eberle,

    “I’m just disappointed (that) a person’s life was taken and a person is not going to be held accountable,” Williams said. “I’m really disappointed in the justice system here.”

    Also from the same article,

    Randy Clark, interim president of the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, said he believed the deputy was guilty.

    “I’m a little disappointed,” Clark said. “I hope this doesn’t send a very bad signal.”

    ………….

    “This sheriff’s department has been heavy-handed with a lot of people in this area for a lot of years,” Clark said. “If they come in, they incite a lot of problems.”

    Ms. Gunn, how did this officer whom you didn’t identify address these concerns expressed by the residents of the same neighborhood?

    More from the article,

    A number of people out on the neighborhood Wednesday evening talked with News reporters, but declined to be identified. At least one person said specifically he worried that critical remarks could have repercussions with law enforcement officers.

    Ms. Gunn, there is something terribly wrong when citizens who are critical of Law Enforcement, are afraid to identify themselves for fear of repercussions. How are your unnamed officer and the Sheriff’s office addressing this?

    Still more from the article,

    In his successful campaign to unseat incumbent Sheriff Dan Minzey, Clayton had criticized Minzey for failing to take stronger action against the deputies ultimately charged with the Lee case. Clayton, who is African-American, also faulted Minzey for failing to acknowledge a problem in the culture of the sheriff’s department.

    Clayton said this morning that when he takes office in January, he will look at all of the evidence in the case to decide what changes the sheriff’s department may need to make.

    So apparently Clayton, before the election, criticized Minzey for failing to address the misconduct and for “failing to acknowledge a problem in the culture”. OK, Ms. Gunn, here’s why I suggested that Clayton really hasn’t done anything yet. It’s now nearing six months since he took office and there still isn’t any word on the pending investigation or any word on any disciplinary action. What exactly could be taking so long? We just passed the third anniversary of this incident in West Willow where a gang of officers piled on top of a citizen, sprayed pepper spray in his mouth, and blocked his airways until he suffocated to death. At the same time, another gang of officers, pulled his handcuffed brother out of a patrol car, and beat him and kicked him in the head with steel-toed boots, possibly giving him brain damage. This was all caught on video. You watched the video, Ms. Gunn, well over a year ago, and you and your fellow commissioners paid the family four million to avoid a trial regarding the death of Clifton Lee, Jr.

    What is Clayton waiting for, Ms. Gunn?


       —Michael Schils    Jun. 26 '09 - 04:07PM    #
  25. I think this discussion is turning towards the Clifton Lee tragedy and away from the specifics of the county budget.

    Sheriff Clayton did give a presentation to the board in May and you can view it here. During this presentation Sheriff Clayton touched on matters of training and budget.

    While your passion on this point, Mr. Schils, is palpable I can not throw in with your concept of “pre West-Willow” thinking and “post West-Willow” thinking. For officers to abuse or mistreat residents was, is and will continue to be unacceptable. Cameras in the cars – and the effective use of that technology – is the right choice for Washtenaw County for both ethical and pecuniary reasons.

    The discussions of our board regarding the incident did not focus on how to cover our tracks in the future, but rather on how to assist the Sheriff’s Office in assuring that similar tragedies do not occur.

    To that end, I believe that all of the county patrol vehicles have cameras and that the WCSO policy regarding the use of these cameras is that they be automatically turned on for any traffic stop and that the recording starts when the sirens are triggered. I’ll have to circle back to be sure, but this was the reality the last time I asked.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 26 '09 - 05:31PM    #
  26. Thank you for your answer Jeff, and the link to Sheriff Clayton’s report. That is all I am going to have to say on this subject.


       —Leah Gunn    Jun. 26 '09 - 06:11PM    #
  27. Ms. Gunn, would you provide me with a copy of the email you sent Mr. Irwin, asking him to respond to my questions to you…

    …or do I have to FOIA it?

    Oh just kidding. I just like seeing public officials squirm a bit when I bring up that FOIA-thing. There may not even be an email. You may have used your telephone.

    Mr. Irwin, I thank you for your participation here and even though settlements over lawsuits and the costs of patrol car cameras are indeed budgetary items, and misconduct by Law Enforcement definitely affects the bottom line – I agree that any further discussion of these matters as they relate to the West Willow incident may be better located in the thread regarding the release of the videos.


       —Michael Schils    Jun. 26 '09 - 06:47PM    #
  28. Jeff, in recent years there have been complaints from the Circuit Court judiciary that the Board of Commissioners has failed to discharge its statutory duty to provide the circuit court with adequate facilities.

    Could you give us an outline of those concerns as had been propounded by the Circuit Court leadership and your responses to those concerns?

    Also, there was some well-publicized friction between former Chief Judge Archie Brown and yourself when you were Board Chairman. Do you believe relations btween the Board and the Circuit Court has improved since David Swartz assumed the helm of the Circuit Court as chief judge and, also, Rolland Sizemore becoming the current Board Chairman.


       —Junior    Jun. 27 '09 - 07:02PM    #
  29. Commissioners Irwin and Gunn, I comment to you both in the other thread. Mr. Irwin, I would appreciate your response regarding my request that you verify whether all the cars are equipped with cameras.


       —Michael Schils    Jun. 28 '09 - 03:22PM    #
  30. It seems to me that our Michigan Constitution enshrined a certain adversarial relationship between Boards of Commissioners and other elected offices in counties. Courts will often angle for more resources and county boards will typically try to exact cost savings from the courts. Because the courts are a very large percentage of our county budget, this tension is not trivial or personal.

    To be clear, I don’t have any grudges with the judges.

    However, since our county began reducing our general fund workforce several years ago, I have openly shared the perspective that our Trial Court operations have taken less reductions than other county services. As Chair of the Board, I regularly communicated that point to our judges and encouraged them to develop plans to cut 5%-10% of their budgets (in anticipation of the coming revenue slide). I had hoped that advance knowledge of the budgetary situation would prepare the Trial Court to make meaningful reductions. These discussions were not exactly pleasant, but they were also not hostile. In fact, I continued to work productively with Judge Brown, Judge Schwartz and the rest of the bench on the Criminal Justice Collaborative Council and the Public Safety and Justice Oversight Committee.

    In a nutshell, my perspective is that in these economic times almost every county service will face reductions in their budgets. We are facing huge shortfalls and we simply can’t get to a balanced and sustainable budget without realizing savings in these major line items.

    In addition to strenuously resisting reductions in their budgets, the Trial Court has communicated it’s dissatisfaction with the facilities the public provides for their work. They have communicated dissatisfaction with both the volume and the functionality of their current space. In addition, they have asked for many security upgrades at the facility. Some of their security requests have been met and these have been very expensive upgrades to the County Courthouse on Main and Huron.

    Our problem as a Board is that we enjoy many more constitutional and statutory responsibilities than we have resources to meet those needs. Providing adequate court space is just one of many obligations that we must weigh against one another in a very tight budget situation. Indeed the annual cost of providing staff to the courts is one of these competing interests. Another clear and competing obligation of the county is providing adequate jail facilities. Our job as commissioners, at least as I see it, is to act in the best interests of the county residents in best meeting these many obligations.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 28 '09 - 07:55PM    #
  31. OOPS! It is Judge Swartz and Commissioner Schwartz. Please forgive my hastiness.


       —Jeff Irwin    Jun. 28 '09 - 07:58PM    #
  32. Jeff, can you tell me why the Washtenaw County Friend of Court Advisory Committee got disbanded several years ago?

    I believe that this committee provided needed oversight to the Friend of Court and made it more accountable to the public.

    Was the dissolution due to financial reasons or politics? There were some prominent citizens who sat on that committee.


       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 30 '09 - 03:49AM    #
  33. Mark – I can answer your question because I was involved. An appointee complained to me that the committee hardly ever met, and when it did, there was nothing on the agenda. Any cases that come through the Friend of the Court are in the court system, and although the committee tried to make itself useful and accountable, nothing much ever happened. It was recommended by the members that the committee be disbanded as they thought they were wasting their time. You are correct that there were citizens of merit who wanted to serve. However, this was not an effective place for their talents. Also, there was no staff provided by the courts.

    There is an excellent department at the state level, in the Dept. of Human Services, that enforces child support orders. However, at the local level, it is a court function, not a BOC function, so our oversight and participation is limited.


       —Leah Gunn    Jun. 30 '09 - 11:06AM    #
  34. Trying to get my head around the county budget, I need to understand what are mandated services as contrasted with discretionary. For example,are the offices of county administrator and corporate counsel mandated?


       —Martha    Jul. 7 '09 - 01:30PM    #
  35. Good question. I suppose you would have to look at the County Charter and possibly the county ordinances.

    Is anyone familiar enough to give us an answer?


       —Junior    Jul. 11 '09 - 04:18PM    #
  36. “Mandated” services are those required of Michigan counties by state and federal law.

    The offices of county administrator and corporation counsel are positions designated within the organization, not services. It is to some extent an apples and oranges question. However, I’ll note that not all counties have an administrator. In some, the county executive is an elected position.

    I don’t know whether counties in Michigan are required to have a corporation counsel or whether this was deemed a good arrangement when our local organization was designed. I will say that in my opinion, we have been very well served by the current occupant of that office (Curtis Hedger), who in addition to judicious opinions has run a cost-effective operation.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 11 '09 - 05:40PM    #
  37. Martha,

    The Board of Commissioners dedicated their March 5 working session to the topic of county mandated and discretionary services. Materials from the meeting are available the county’s website.

    Presentation on County Mandated/Discretionary Services
    Policy Brief: Understanding the Mandated Service Argument: A Primer for County Commissioners, published by MSU Extension
    County Department Analysis Including a breakdown of services by department.

    WebCast of the entire meeting.


       —Andy Brush    Jul. 13 '09 - 03:46PM    #