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HARRISON – Faced with a deadline for action, the Clare County Board of Commissioners discussed what its specific approach would be for changing the Clare County Road Commission from a three-member board to a five-member board. The BOC could have sought to make the CCRC a fully appointed board, which after an imminent action by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would require that change to be done by a vote of the people. However, while it has been stated loudly and frequently at BOC meetings that the preferred course is letting the people make their choices at the polls, it also has been equally clear that the BOC has no desire to do away with election of road commission members.
Commissioner Leonard Strouse reminded the board of the road commissioners’ seeming consensus/amenability to having two more board members – which, he said they had opposed initially. Commissioner Mark Fitzpatrick said there are good arguments on both sides, but that his concern was for possible political manipulations that could arise with an appointed board – something he said doesn’t serve any good purpose.
Commissioner Jeff Haskell stated his preference to simply wait for new road commissioners to be elected in November, rather than spend the time interviewing two appointees who may or may not be elected anyway.
Commissioner Dale Majewski pointed out that the two new elected road commissioners would then not be installed until 2021, leaving the status quo for nearly a full year. He also said it was clear from the two hearings which were conducted that the public is onboard with a five-member road commission board.
“And I can see it too,” he said. “Commissioners can talk between themselves and not worry about violating the Open Meetings Act. And with five you’ll get a more diverse, greater input into that board.”
After clarifying that the signup date to run for office in the August Primary Election is April 21, and that the BOC could appoint a commissioner at any time in the interim, it was determined that a notice would be placed in the two county newspapers listing the two available CCRC appointee spots, and how to apply. The board set a date of Jan. 31 for filling those appointments, which will run through Dec. 31, 2020 .
With one CCRC term expiring this year, there will be three road commissioner spots up for grabs in November.
There is one crucial point for those interested in applying for these positions: being appointed is no guarantee of being elected in the fall. Terry Acton, Hayes Township supervisor, touched on that point, adding that the appointees could have an edge in the election.
“I am running for Dick Haynack’s position,” Acton said. “It’s time for one of the township supervisors to be on that board. The township supervisors are basically the first line of attack when it comes to road commission issues; we take a lot of the calls.”
In response to Kleinhardt’s question of his preference to an appointed or elected board, Acton said he leans toward elected.
“It eliminates any rumors going around and keeps your hands clean,” he said. “You leave it up to the people then you guys [BOC] are free and clear – it’s a tough line either way.”
Acton also told the board that a political appointee will not draw as serious a crowd as forcing a person to go through the burden of an election.
“Going through the burden of election means you desire that office and you’re willing to put up with some grief and aggravation to get it,” he said. “And you’re willing to stand up and state your reasons why you want it.”
He said that coming into an office and going through an interview process is not the same thing.
“You’re not going to get the same quality of players,” Acton said. “You’re going to get people who have never heard the term ‘PA 51’ and don’t have a dream of what that is; don’t know how road taxes are distributed; don’t know how the road commission is even funded. At least people forced to go through an election process have probably done some homework, are serious, and are willing to put up with the burden of an election – which can be a burden – in order to get into that office. They’re willing to fight for it. I don’t think an interview process will draw as serious a player.”
Ultimately, the board moved to take applications and interview for two appointed positions to finish out this year, then send to the ballot the positions for election in November, with the appointees to receive the current commissioners’ pay with no health insurance option. This motion was posed by Majewski, and seconded by Haskell, who viewed it as an acceptable compromise on his original position. Commissioners Samantha Pitchford and Jack Kleinhardt both abstained.