HARRISON – At its Dec. 18 meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners conducted a second hearing on Aug. 4, 2020 ballot language regarding possible BOC oversight of the Clare County Road Commission. This second hearing was again well attended but this time did not require reconvening in a larger room.
The first person to speak during the public hearing was Joanne Davis or Sheridan Township, who cited issues with the CCRC to include: promised road work which was promised by the former manager, and the severance pay which she believed was a further waste of taxpayer money; her expense of putting control arms on her last two vehicles as a result of bad roads; responding to calls for road work by skimming the road down and back, leaving the holes. She posited that if the money that should be spent on roads is being wasted already, why should there be additional expense for a five-member board when the existing three “aren’t doing anything for us people?” She then noted the curb work done at the Amish Country Store, referring to it as wasted money, adding that she believes monies being sought from the Amish for use/damage of roads should remain in the county.
As at the previous hearing, several township supervisors spoke of their experiences with the CCRC, both professionally and in terms of project partnerships. Dan Dysinger, Grant Township supervisor, spoke again, saying that the letter he had submitted to the BOC at the Nov. 20 hearing still stands, except that the state legislation regarding the sunset date for taking action to take over the road commission had changed.
“Based upon the comments I heard at the last public hearing, I would certainly urge the Board of Commissioners to move forward with three commissioners vs. five, or moving toward a five-person road commission,” Dysinger said. “I’m not certain that a takeover of the road commission by the Board of Commissioners is really the way you want to go – until you’ve given a five-person board a chance to redeem themselves, if possible.”
Dysinger also brought up the issue of compensation for road commissioners.
“Documents prove that from 2008 that agreement was made between the Board of Commissioners and the road commission,” he said. “You’re part of that process and you need to address it.”
He added that there are many things residents would like to see improved, but the new manager needs to be given his opportunity to see things.
“I stand by my statement that we’ve backed things up five years, but that’s water over the dam and we’re not going to be able to do anything about it,” Dysinger said. He closed his comments saying that at one time the townships were considered the road commission’s million-dollar partner.
“The road commission has some make-up work to do now, and it’s going to take a while,” he said. “It took five years before, and we lost the time.”
Ed Noyola, Michigan County Road Association deputy director, spoke again saying that he was there to provide as much information and education as he could, so that both parties could work together better to take care of the county’s infrastructure. He also informed that the bills involving the elimination of the sunset date had been delayed, but that legislators would take them up when they return after the first of the year.
“Once they get it connected, by the governor,” he said. “It will continue; that option for the counties to transfer jurisdiction is still available, but it looks like you guys are farther along than that.”
Noyola explained that even if the BOC chose to go from elected to appointed road commissioners, elected road commissioners would remain in place until their terms end. He said it would be a lengthy process with everyone having to term-out before arriving at a fully elected or fully appointed road commission board.
Another resident spoke of her road being graded more than a lot of roads, but that with all the truck traffic it carries, the condition of the road and ditches suffer from a lack of remaining materials.
Tim Haskin, CCRC vice chair, spoke next, saying that the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to make changes in a piecemeal way and come back in a year to see if the Grant Township supervisor was happy with it.
“We need a path forward,” he said. “You people are adults, we’re all responsible. We work for the county; we work for the citizens.”
He spoke of the inability to plan for the unknown, and of how to step back five years.
“Coming into March this year, I pulled our spends,” Haskin said. “We agreed we had a $600,000 bump from funds last year, and we decided we’re going to have Reith Riley out on Rodgers Avenue and overlay that whole road between M-61 and the square at Dodge City [Townline Lake Road]. The low and behold the project was pulled off the table because $200,000 went to Grant Township when Grant Township had six projects on the books. So, now coming into spring, Grant Township has eight projects in the books: five which are significant spends from all the people.”
He provided a comparison, saying Grant has eight, Surrey has one, Arthur has zero, Redding has zero, Hamilton has one.
“We have ones and zeroes all around the county,” Haskin said. “And Dan has to have eight. So, we took it upon ourselves to shut that down to get him to talk to the road commission on how I can get these other rurals money.”
Haskin said it was easier for Dysinger to dog the CCRC in the paper than to face the fact that there can’t be eight projects in Grant and zero in Arthur and one in Sheridan.
“We just can’t do it,” Haskin said. “We have to distribute the money equally. So, if you put on six commissioners, however many you want to put on – how’s it going to improve? We’ve got to have a distribution of the spends, and our spends are $7 million – and we need $100 million.
“I would ask that the commission give us a path forward – not a decision,” he said. “That’s all I’d ask.”
Dewayne Rogers, the new CCRC managing director, introduced himself to the county commissioners whom he had not already met.
“It’s my third week, and I’m hearing a lot of things,” Rogers said. “I can’t wave a magic wand, but just want everybody to know that I do have a vision, a direction I’d like to see things go. I have a lot of experience, so over time, once we get through the winter, hopefully everybody starts to see things happen.”
Richard Haynack, CCRC chair, spoke of the mistakes the road commission has made in the past, but said the road commission today is fine although behind on maintenance of Clare County’s 780 miles of gravel roads.
“We’re fortunate to have Dewayne, and I’m sure it’s going to work out just fine,” Haynack said. “Looking at the big picture of the road commission, I remember people coming to our meetings and saying there are all these holes in our blacktop. What we did, and it did take away from our maintenance, but take a look at Old 27. That’s beautiful. We put that sandwich seal on it – saved a lot of money doing that – it’s a good ride and should continue to be a good ride for quite a few years.”
He added that blacktops throughout the county were chip n sealed and are in wonderful condition, thanks to the townships and their contribution.
“But we got into doing our own construction on gravel roads and we got behind on our maintenance,” Haynack said. “There is no secret about that, and we’re going to turn those tables now. We’ll contract out the bigger projects out and work more on the maintenance.”
He added that if two more commissioners were added to make a five-person board it would allow the commissioners to better cover the townships and would provide for better input at meetings.
County Commissioner Dale Majewski sought clarification from Haynack of who Rogers would report to: the board or an individual commissioner, and Haynack said he answers to the wishes of the commission.
Majewski also thanked Haynack for his words.
“It took a year for somebody to say what you said, as far as wanting to work with everybody,” Majewski said. “You’re here, you’re willing to make changes, you’re trying to work on it. This last year we haven’t heard that. We’ve had commissioners come out to meetings, and basically had stand-off situations with the township boards. And it did no good to do that; it only turned people against the road commission to do that. And it took up until this point to hear what we really wanted to hear all along – ‘we’re working on a problem, we realize we’ve got a problem, we want to do better.’ That’s really what a lot of people want to hear.”
Haynack thanked Majewski, saying he meant what he had said.
Commissioner Karen Hulliberger concurred, adding that the CCRC is going forward to be part of a workshop to be held in March in Greenwood Township, and wants the best for the county.
“I do, we all do,” she said. “We’re trying to move forward, trying to put the past in the past. It’s like ripping a Band-Aid; we’ve got to start over and get things leveled out. And I thoroughly think Dewayne has it under control. I’ve been impressed with him the last three weeks, and I think you guys will be in the long run. So, just give him a chance.”
Majewski added that the key will be just listening to people and responding to them in a reasonable amount of time.
“You work for the people of Clare County,” he said. “And they deserve to get responses when they have concerns or issues.”