I know winning elections, serving the public, and trying to balance a budget are very difficult tasks. I applaud those who answer the call of democracy to represent the 30,000 residents of Clare County as they work an often-thankless job.
However, the residents of Clare County are not being represented by an effective Board of Commissioners. On May 20, viewers and participants endured four and a half hours of the single most disappointing Board of Commissioners meeting ever. Any question of why the county is struggling to remain financially afloat was answered during this appalling display of ineptitude. All Clare County residents can view this travesty on YouTube and witness the foundational character of the board revealed.
“Are you trying to make us look bad?” - Jack Kleinhardt. No, Jack, the board looks bad all on their own. Here is a sampling of this embarrassment and the approximate minute mark at which they occur.
- 11:30 The disrespectful and hostile behavior directed toward our County Clerk, Lori Martin, was laid bare. Lori Martin is a skilled, knowledgeable, and caring individual who does great work as the head of the Clerk’s Office. The board members were either oblivious, accusatory, or unwilling to accept their actions towards her - highlighted by Jack Kleinhardt’ s accusation of Lori Martin “plotting to overthrow the board” and then mansplaining how checks and balances work. Lori knows how the government works. The board does not appear to know how the government works.
- 17:30 Mark Fitzpatrick wrongfully accused Lori of holding “secret meetings.” Fitzpatrick was then taught the difference between what board members and anyone else in the county government can or cannot do in regard to meeting with people.
Twenty minutes into the meeting, the board was made aware that students were in attendance and witnessing how badly the meeting was being run instead of seeing how the government should be working to improve the lives of their constituents. The board was summarily chastised for their behavior by a parent of one of the students.
- 54:00 After handling some basic requests and carrying some motions, the BOC arrived at discussing the county’s official COVID-19 response plan. The county did not have a plan in place or had even discussed a plan until this meeting! The first case of COVID in Michigan was March 10. The first case in Clare County was March 21. Somehow, the BOC had not discussed a plan at any point in two full months.
- When asked about developing a response plan, Kleinhardt wondered aloud who is asking for a plan. I’ll answer. First, the governor is asking. Second, the people of Clare County want to know their local government has a plan - that’s called preparation. Third, the Michigan Association of Counties has been producing resources to develop a plan since March 13 (https://micounties.org/resources-for-coronavirus-response/).
- 1:11 “The Cleaning Contract Discussion” Next on display is a show of terrible communication and lack of preparation. I would guess the board wasted close to an hour or more on deciding if they should honor a cleaning contract during a global pandemic. They offered motions, offered to rescind motions, discussed rescinding motions from a previous meeting, and finally decided to offer less money than the current contract. If the BOC doesn’t want to pay for cleaning and maintenance at the county building during a pandemic, the commissioners should volunteer to do the job.
- 1:44 “The Hot Mic Heard ‘Round Clare County.” At the 100-minute mark, the room had mostly cleared for a coffee break. Jack Kleinhardt leans over to Dale Majewski and says, “I got my ass kicked, didn’t I?” (This question was in reference to Lori Martin calling him out earlier in the meeting. Yes, Jack, you did get your ass kicked). Majewski continues the conversation by saying, “I thought I was being blamed too... To be honest with you, I don’t give a s---. She can be mad all she wants. Lack of respect goes both ways.” SAID THE MAN WHO IS TALKING ABOUT HIS COLLEAGUE BEHIND HER BACK ON A RECORDED VIDEO CALL. Lori said her piece to their faces. Try having a backbone, Dale.
- 3:42 “Cell Phone Policy.” During the budget conversation, the board questioned why the county was paying for cell phones for county employees like those in the Sheriff Department. Thankfully, Sheriff Wilson explained a portion of the money is spent so police officers can communicate crime scene information and not need to use their personal cell phones to communicate with informants. Thank goodness the Sheriff Department knows where our tax money is going because the board certainly did not.
- 3:58 Thinking of retirement? Watch as the board develops a retirement package with incentives on the spot! How does something as complex as a retirement package become created and chosen for public employees? The board will show you as they muddle through a topic that should have been researched and discussed beforehand. Most other boards would have asked to “table” the decision so they could complete research outside of the meeting, discuss, and then make the decision at the next meeting. But, four hours in, the board creates a retirement offer out of thin air.
- 4:12 Bless your heart Jack Kleinhardt for thinking you can adjourn a meeting without public comment. We want out of this marathon as much as you do, but we want to be heard first.
- 4:25 “The Elephant in The Room.” Mark Fitzpatrick, bored with public comments, says “It’s public comment, but the elephant in the room is how many Clare County employees are spending hours watching our board meeting? I mean, they’re welcome to watch it. But how many people out in the real world that have a job, their bosses aren’t going to let them sit at a computer and let them watch the meeting. Unfortunately, if our meetings were at a time when most people weren’t working… Just saying.” I’m just saying, Mark, you have embarrassed yourself by implying county employees don’t have a real-world job. You also forget that not all county employees are working right now. Some have been furloughed and some just want to see how their commissioners are doing their jobs (poorly) on their own time. At least you’re right about the meeting time - HOLD YOUR MEETINGS IN THE EVENING LIKE EVERY OTHER MUNICIPALITY IN THE COUNTY!
- Somehow, throughout the entirety of the 4.5-hour meeting, Commissioners Hoefling, Strouse, and Pitchford said no more than one sentence. Speak up for your constituents!
Unfortunately, some BOC members are running unopposed this year, but others are facing competition. I hope readers find this article serves as a useful voting guide.