Is Anyone Listening?
March 6th County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Once again the public’s voice went unheeded as the board majority seems to relish in pushing through their agenda against any and all opposition. After the contentious invocation policy seems to have at least reduced to a simmer, another topic has taken center stage. That topic is the board attempting to change rules on the fly. Public comment was dominated by people pushing back on these rule changes. Although before animosity grew too high, the board did accomplish a few thing
The meeting began with public comment which was full of people speaking out against the proposed rule changes. These rule changes would put more power into the chairperson's hands to dictate whether items would be put on the agenda, as well as how and when public comments would be accepted. Not a single person spoke in favor of these rule changes. Mixed in were a few people speaking out against the meeting time of 8 am, as it is hard to attend for the working class and people with children
Then something actually ran smoothly, as the agenda was approved unanimously, which was met with a collective sigh of relief. The consent calendar went off with only a slight hitch as a few items were removed. Items A2 (Department of Health & Human Services minutes of January 25, 2019), B2 (Scrap Tire Grant), and B5 (Medical Services Contract for Jail Inmates) were removed and then the consent calendar was approved unanimously. The removed items all were passed unanimously later on, as a few simple questions were answered.
The airport governance model was an interesting discussion. Personally I did not know much about this topic, so the presentation and discussion that followed were informative. Steve Baldwin, on behalf of Kevin Klein, presented four options they think are prudent moving forward. The four options are as follows; 1) maintain the current governance model, 2) modify the current model, 3) create an Airport Authority under the current Michigan statute, or 4) draft new State legislation in an effort to advance an Authority model tailored specifically to the Airport's needs. The push from the airport seemed to be option 3, to create an Airport Authority. This, according to Baldwin, would be fairly inexpensive to implement and would not take long. The overwhelming thought from the board was that it sounded like a good idea but more information was needed. They moved to create an ad-hoc committee to pursue this plan. While Commissioner Coffia wanted someone from the city to be on the committee, the motion passed with Alger, Hentschel, and Lapointe being on the committee, with the promise that they would look to add a city commissioner.
John Rizzo, a DHHS board member, brought a serious topic to the table concerning the most vulnerable people in our community. The Department of Health and Human Services recently switched to a new system of taking calls and cases. Instead of the case worker system, which has been in place for as long as most of us can remember, they switched to a statewide system. This was supposed to streamline the caseloads. Needless to say, this new system is backfiring in spectacular fashion. Backlogged cases have more than doubled since the change, with longer wait times when calling, instead of the old way of leaving a message for your case worker. As this is a state issue there was not a lot the board could do to help, although, they did pass a motion unanimously to draft a resolution with Rizzo to give to the Legislature in Lansing as well as the Governor. Hopefully this pressures Lansing into going back to the old way of doing things, as it was much simpler and you actually talked to someone who knew about your personal situation.
The next few items all went fairly quick. From okaying invoices to creating a few new committees. They approved these items unanimously. A partnership was created between the CDBG and the NMCAA to aid low income citizens who need help fixing their homes. An ethics committee was formed with Coffia, Clous, and Jewitt. Also, a group consisting of Hentschel, Wheelock, and Jewitt was formed to fill vacant board positions throughout the county.
Then onto the main event, the rule changes presented by commissioner Lapointe. There were again a few people who got up and spoke out against these changes, with no one supporting them. You could feel the disdain between the two sides in the room over this topic. Lapointe asked to separate the five rule changes into five separate votes which passed unanimously, so now we get five contentious votes instead of one.
The first up was a rule under section 5 of the rule book. The change took power away from county administrator to set the agenda and gave authority to the chairperson to allow or not allow items on the agenda. The minority opinion on this matter was that it gave the majority the power to make it difficult for some of the commissioners to get items on the agenda. The majority seemed appalled that anyone would think they may abuse this power. Even though in the past few months they have shown no signs of caring what the public actually wants. This vote passed 4-3 with Coffia, Wheelock, and Hundley voting no.
Rule 6.2 was next and this was straight forward, stating that no commissioner shall speak unless recognized by the chairperson. Again this was met with push back from everyone in the room except the four members in majority. The thought was that the chair may abuse this and not allow some members ample time to speak. This was seen during this debate when Hentschel did not allow any more time for Coffia to speak instead pushing forward to a vote. This change passed again 4-3.
Then it seemed the meeting should be over since it was past noon, a time limit this board set. Since it was between motions Coffia moved to adjourn the meeting. Hentschel deemed that even though the rule changes were broken into five separate votes it was all part of one motion. Coffia’s attempt to adjourn was shot down with a vote of 3-3, Hentschel recused himself. Coffia, with other professional engagements, had to leave the meeting. This would never have been an issue in the past when meeting times were in the evenings.
The next three rule changes all passed 4-2 with Wheelock and Hundley voting no on each. Rule 18.104.22.168 was changed to give the chairperson the authority to say what topics were open to public comment. Rule 22.214.171.124 stated that it gave the chairperson the power to let people have more time when commenting if deemed germaine to topic. Rule 126.96.36.199 was changed to allow the chairperson to set what topics would be open for discussion between the two open public comment times. If the chairperson did not set a topic for discussion at the beginning of meeting, it could not be opened up when the topic came about, which in this very meeting, would have stopped public comment from happening on the DHHS issue. Throughout this entire discussion the animosity between Commissioners was palpable. Hentschel seemed disgusted with Coffia’s attempt to adjourn, and after each no vote you could see Lapointe growing more and more disgruntled with his fellow board members. After the meeting I asked Hundley how the trust between commissioners could be repaired, he jokingly said, “I’ll keep bringing donuts”.
The meeting was then adjourned after a unanimous consent vote was not reached to continue the meeting. There were only a couple items left on the Agenda, but after almost five hours Wheelock voted no on continuing. By this time most of the crowd had dissipated and the board members seemed relieved the meeting was over.
Moving forward we as the public need to be louder and show up in higher numbers. We all need to force the board to listen to the community. This should be an easy task as it is their job to work on behalf of the public, but that does not seem to be their prerogative. Agenda can be found at: http://www.co.grand-traverse.mi.us/AgendaCenter/Search/?term=&CIDs=2,14,15,16,&startDate =&endDate=&dateRange=&dateSelector= Video of meeting: http://www.upnorthmedia.org/watchgovtv.asp?sdbfid=11768 Chairperson Hentschel’s contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 231-946-4277