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Wednesday, November 30,2011

Time to tow away road commissions

by Kyle Melinn

Three hurdles need to be cleared if advocates of abolishing the Ingham County Road Commission are going to succeed.


The Legislature needs to pass a bill
allowing county leaders to dissolve their road commissions. The
governor needs to sign the bill. And then nine of the 16 members of
Ingham County Board of Commissioners need to support Commissioner Andy
Schor’s proposal to do so.


None of the three seem unattainable. It couldn’t happen soon enough.


This isn’t an indictment of current Road
Commission Chairwoman Shirley Rodgers and the rest of the current crew.
Rodgers brings up good points about the good-ol’-boy network in Mason
that probably isn’t limited to the road commission.


She is rubbing people the wrong way with
her micromanaging of personnel decisions as she tries to get more
minority representation into the workforce, but Rodgers isn’t running a
one-woman crusade. And change for the better doesn’t come without
upsetting the applecart.


Rodgers sees an injustice and she’s out to correct it.


That said, the road commission is in the
news, yet again, which should really be the exception and not the norm.
If it’s not Rodgers, it’s the hubbub over the fifth lane on Okemos
Road. Or it’s the controversy about township officials feeling left
out. Or Waverly Road. Or something.


This is all coming from a board that’s
completely unaccountable to voters. Its members serve six years. In the
same time, term-limited state representatives are elected and
re-elected three times. 


Commissioner Mark Grebner wants all five
of the county road commissioners to resign. All five of them can — and
are — telling him to take a hike.


They don’t have to return telephone
calls. They don’t have to listen to a majority of citizens. They don’t
have to listen to their staff. They get their money from the state, and
it’s up to them to spend it.


Instead of taking politics out of
improving and plowing roads — which is what road commissions are
supposed to do — these fiefdoms are just another sandbox for political
play.


Putting county road improvement duties
under a new county commission committee makes the most sense. The
16-member board manages to run the Health Department, animal control
and the parks. 


The two counties that don’t have road
commissions — Wayne and Macomb — are two of the state’s largest, and
they’re doing fine. There’s no public outcry, and they have many more
roads to manage than Ingham.


Scrapping the road commission saves
Ingham County about $70,000. But more important, it gives citizens an
elected official they can hold accountable. Don’t like that potholed
county road? Call your county commission and complain. You don’t like
their response? Call you neighbors and vote him or her out.


Ingham County’s roads have a
professional manager charged with managing the fewer than 70 employees
and overseeing 1,249 miles of road. Let the professionals do their jobs
and let elected officials have the final sign-off on the $22 million
Ingham County has been allotted in recent years.


The holdup seems to be in the Michigan
House, where a measure that allows county commissioners to shut down
their road commissions stalled after Republicans in Northern Michigan
balked.


The Yoopers and those Up North have good
relationships with their road commissioners and don’t want the bodies
dissolved by a rogue band of power-hungry county commissioners.


They support changes that require county
boards to jump through hoops before putting a road commission
elimination question on the ballot. 


Making the process overly difficult
chases away interest in making the change, which may be the point, but
it defeats the purpose.


The current proposal lets county do away
with road commissions if they want. If elected leaders like their
boards, they can keep them. To calm down opponents, county voters
should be given a window to override the commission’s decision through
local referendum, if the public feels that attached to its road
commission.


It’s hard to imagine voters rushing to take advantage of the opportunity, but the safeguard is needed.


If Senate Majority Leader Randy
Richardville is right, Michigan is the second-most governed state in
the country. We have county, township, city, villages governments
combined with school boards and community college boards and ISDs and
regional groups and all the rest.


Getting rid of county road commissions is an easy first step.

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