EditorCommissioner Vivian Conner, newly re-elected vice-chairwoman (left) with fellow board member Dan Parker and Chairwoman Heather Wing gather after the first county board meeting of 2020.
Barry County’s chief elected official is Heather Wing, by unanimous vote of the commissioners during their annual organizational session Jan. 2.
By law, the board may choose its leader via secret ballot – but no one sought to do so.
Commissioner Howard Gibson made the resolution to place Wing in the leadership role, with a second from last year's Vice Chairwoman Vivian Conner. No discussion followed.
Commissioners Jon Smelker, supported by Gibson, made a motion to adopt the resolution. The vote was unanimous.
“Thank you so much for your support,” Wing said.
Then Smelker made a resolution to re-elect Conner vice-chairwoman, which was supported by Gibson. Again, no discussion.
Commissioner Ben Geiger made the motion to adopt the resolution, supported by Gibson. The vote was unanimous.
The board went on to adopt board rules, with a few minor corrections, and Wing made committee appointments. (See separate story.)
The meeting schedule for the year was agreed upon after discussion about whether some regular meetings should take place at night. (See meeting schedule in separate story.)
Commissioners debated when and where night meetings could best be held, given the logistical challenges of opening the courthouse at night and paying staff and security officers overtime. Finally, they agreed to try one evening meeting in May at a location to be determined.
After Thursday’s meeting, Wing said getting the chairmanship last year was a big surprise.
Now that she’s getting more comfortable with the role, she's preparing for what she expects to be “a busy year ahead.”
“This is a huge election year,” Wing pointed out.
All seven of the commissioners, who hold two-year terms, will be up for election this year.
County Administrator Michael Brown said that, annually, each commissioner is paid a flat rate of $11,101, with $12,106 for the chairperson, who holds greater responsibility in that leadership post.
This year, commissioners will receive a mileage reimbursement of 57 cents per mile for travel to and from their meetings, he said.
They also are eligible for health insurance. They may choose between four plans offered by Blue Care Network or Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They also may opt for payment in lieu of health insurance. Commissioners receive dental and optical reimbursements of up to $500 per a year.
They receive life insurance and workers compensation and are eligible for longevity pay once they have served the county continuously for five years or more. Longevity is calculated at $25 per year of service with a maximum of $600. Retirement pay is a hybrid plan, part defined contribution and part defined benefit.
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan called county elected officials “agents of the state in such matters as the conduct of elections, enforcement of state criminal laws, registration of property deeds, issuance of birth certificates, and administration of justice, and they also provide services directly for the benefit of county residents: parks and recreation programs; water and sewerage services; solid waste disposal; airports; and economic development efforts.
John Amrhein, government and public policy educator for the Michigan State University Extension Service, pointed out that, often, the general public doesn’t realize that county commissioners are lawmakers.
“They pass numerous resolutions that establish the policies of county government,” Amrhein wrote. “These policies deal primarily with the agencies of county government and less directly with county residents. County policies deal largely with the county budget, appropriations, personnel, capital improvements, county services, and other internal matters.”
The county board also provides legislative oversight.
“Because of the limits on county lawmaking powers and the statutory assignment of duties to elected county officers, county commissioners may devote some of their time to looking over the shoulders of the administrators in county government,” he noted. “In so doing, they seek to assure that county administrators carry out their tasks effectively and efficiently. And they try to assess the effects of programs that county funds are being used for.”
Commissioners also serve their constituents.
Representing voters to administrators is a function that few, other than elected officials, can perform, according to Amrhein. “This involvement with residents also strengthens the oversight function because it gives commissioners a sense of how county programs are working.
“As the elected body that oversees the entire county budget, the board of commissioners also needs to look carefully at the ways that county departments interact with each other. The board is uniquely situated to be the unit of county government that keeps an eye on the future, anticipating changes in society and enabling legislation, and, through their policy setting role, working to keep the entire county operation focused on excellence and cost effectiveness in their provision of services to citizens.”