By Matt Nordfjord, Esq.

With a new year comes the responsibility for county boards to elect chairs and vice chairs. This process is governed by Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) 46.3.

The county board of commissioners is required to elect one of its members as chair and one member as vice chair, per MCL 46.3(4).

The chair shall be elected each odd-numbered year for a 2-year term, unless the board provides by resolution or board rule that the chair shall be elected annually, for a 1-year term.  The vice chair is required to be elected annually for a 1-year term.

The election of a chair or vice chair must occur at the first meeting of the county board of commissioners in a year in which a chair or vice chair is to be elected. The term of a chair or vice chair begins upon their election.

The board does not have the option of electing a vice chair for a 2-year term. Rather, the election of the vice chair must occur annually at the first meeting of the board, regardless whether the election of the board chair occurs annually. The election of a chair and vice chair is determined by a majority vote of the county board members elected and serving, as per MCL 46.3(2).

A unique aspect of an election for a board chair (but not the vice chair) is that state law allows for a secret ballot. (See MCL 46.3a.) The law does not mandate a secret ballot, but it allow for one in this specific circumstance. If the board chooses to conduct the election of the board chair by secret ballot, a majority of the board must vote to authorize this mechanism.

Matt Nordfjord is a shareholder with the law firm of Cohl, Stoker & Toskey, P.C.

 

Further OMA changes expected by end of year

With the House session delayed due to COVID positive cases (see below), a bill to extend the “no reason” option for virtual local board meetings remains stuck on the House floor.

House Bill 6207, by Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Ottawa), awaits further action. However, the Senate was able to meet, so Senate Bill 1246, by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Livingston), could gain traction. SB 1246 is identical to HB 6207 in that it extends the ability for local boards to meet remotely, for any reason, through March 31, 2021.

After March 31, 2021, remote meetings could be held if a local emergency is declared or to accommodate a member that has a medical condition that would put them at risk during an in-person meeting. The medical condition exception only applies to that individual member for remote ability- not the entire body. (See MAC’s COVID resources page for a link to a state of emergency resolution template developed by the Lansing firm of Cohl, Stoker and Toskey.)

The bill would also accommodate local jurisdictions that must pass an ordinance of local emergency. For county boards, a declaration can still be made pursuant to current law as allowed under the Emergency Management Act

The legislation is expected to get to the governor’s desk before the end of the year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign it.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Medical officer outlines Michigan’s plan on vaccines

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the media as Dr. Joneigh Khaldun looks on in this Detroit Free Press photo.

Michigan’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, outlined the state’s vaccination plan this week, pending federal decisions. In addition, Khaldun and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a bipartisan commission to educate Michiganders on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Interested candidates can apply for the commission by clicking here and selecting “Protect Michigan Commission” from the dropdown menu of the application. The deadline to apply is Dec. 28.

The vaccine will be deployed in phases beginning with health care providers and those in long-term care facilities. Essential workers, such as educators, police and fire, follow, as well as adults 65 and older or with high-risk medical conditions.

Earlier this month, Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told a legislative committee there is no plan to mandate a vaccine.

With a goal of 70 percent of Michigan adults vaccinated by the end of 2021, the administration of the vaccine will be a collaborative effort with hospitals, local health departments and the Michigan National Guard. Allocations are pending federal approval and manufacturing ability, but vaccinations are expected to begin before the end of this year.

The full presentation can be found here.

For questions on the vaccine, please call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 or email COVID19@michigan.gov.

 

COVID cases prompt cancellations of House activities

The Michigan House of Representatives largely ground to a halt this week as additional COVID-19 cases and exposures were reported around House members and staff.

As it stands, the House has just three scheduled session days left next week before the end of the 2019-2020 term.

Eight members of the state House and 21 staffers are reported to have tested positive so far this year. The Senate has reported three of its members and 16 of its staff have had COVID-19, for a total of 11 elected members and 37 legislative staffers who have confirmed they’ve had COVID-19.

As of Friday, MAC presumes the House will return to normal operations for Tuesday, Dec. 15. It is not clear if the delays of the past week will lead the Legislature to remain in session well into late December.

 

Podcast 83 continues ‘lame duck’ episodes

MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie led the Podcast 83 team through a review of legislative activity as 2020 comes to a close in the latest episode of Podcast 83 on Dec. 7.

MAC advocates Deena Bosworth and Meghann Keit detailed their work on further changes to the Open Meetings Act on allowing remote sessions, changes to property tax collections and news out of Washington, D.C., on additional federal aid for COVID-19 response.

The team also took questions from county leaders who participated in the live session.

To view a recording of this episode, or others, visit the Podcast 83 webpage.

 

MIDC to hold final 2020 session on Dec. 15; some plans still pending

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) will hold its final meeting of 2020 on Dec. 15 starting at 9 a.m. (See the agenda here.)

In October, the commission approved 110 of 120 system plans for FY 2021 and cost analyses and had distributed grant contracts to those systems. The outstanding plans and cost analyses are on the agenda next week, including those for the largest system, Wayne County.

The Legislature approved $117 million for grants in FY 2021. However, it is uncertain if this will cover the full cost for all plans until the MIDC has approved all systems. MAC supports full funding for all systems to comply with the state standards 1-4 and all future minimum standards.

The most recent standard (no. 5), which requires that indigent criminal defense services be independent of judicial influence, was approved by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in October. A plan for compliance with Standard 5 will be due to MIDC by April 27, 2021. Submission of a plan for compliance with Standard 5 will correspond with the annual compliance planning cycle for all approved standards.

MAC will provide an update next week from the commission’s Dec. 15 session.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Bill for property tax penalties and interest waiver regains traction

For the better part of 2020, the House and the Senate have been working on a bill to forgive the penalties and interest for those who could not afford to make their summer property tax payments.

Senate Bill 943, by Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Kent), was thought dead for the better half of 2020, however, due to the inability of stakeholders to reach a consensus on how to pay for the anticipated costs of forgiving taxes, penalties and interest. But on Thursday, the Senate scaled back the proposal and placed the burden on the Department of Treasury to take applications, provide deferments of summer taxes and to reimburse local governments for their losses.

The bill does not provide an exemption from the taxes, nor does it provide any relief for residential customers or those businesses who have already paid their summer taxes. It does, though, provide a mechanism to forgive the penalties and interest for those qualifying businesses who have not already paid their summer property taxes. The bill is targeted for restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues.

MAC is supportive of the revised version of SB 943.

The House will have to consider the bill when they return to session next week.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Jewel Ware, longtime Wayne commissioner, passes

Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware died unexpectedly this week from a heart attack.

“The Wayne County Commission family is devastated by the sudden passing of Jewel Ware this morning,” Wayne Chair Alisha Bell said in a statement. “Commissioner Ware was a trusted member of the commission family and her experience in county government and knowledge of county issues were immeasurable. … Residents of the Commission’s 2nd District have lost a true champion and our heartfelt condolences go out to her loving family.”

Ware was first elected to the Wayne County Commission in 1994 and served as chair of the panel from 2003 through 2008. Most recently, she served as the commission’s vice chair pro tem. She represented District 2, which included much of the East Side of Detroit, downtown and the East Riverfront neighborhoods.

During her 2003-08 tenure as commission chair, she established the commission’s Office of Policy Research and Analysis to provide in-depth review of county contracts and operations. Throughout her tenure on the commission, Ware was an advocate for improved health care for the uninsured and underserved, including improved mental health care, and an advocate for issues affecting senior citizens and young people.

In her district, Ware was involved in such initiatives as the Mittens and Socks Winter Drive for Children and cleanup programs sponsored by the Midtown Alliance. Ware received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Detroit Mercy and was a certified social worker.

“Jewel Ware’s service to her community and constituents, especially on behalf of her seniors to which she was devoted, were second to none,” said Joe Palamara, Wayne vice chair and member of the MAC Board of Directors. “She was beloved by her friends and colleagues, and all who knew her. She always had a smile and something nice to say. Her caring compassion set her apart from all others. She will be dearly missed.”

 

MAC, CoPro co-sponsor webinar on workplace safety

Protect your work environment and increase peace of mind for you and your team. Join MAC, CoPro+ and SPACE for a short webinar to help you and your employees “Stay Safe, Stay Working and Move Forward.” The webinar will run from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, Dec. 17.

CoPro+, MAC’s procurement service for local governments, and SPACE have been awarded a contract that can be accessed by MAC members for the purchase of hand sanitizers, plexiglass dividers and Anew Facility Armor, powered by the BioprotectUS system.

Guest speaker is Dr. Curt White, renowned scientist and inventor. Discover the scientific measures you can take to prevent microbial growth in your workplace.

Click here to register.

Treasury webinar details economic prospects for ’21, ‘22

In the latest Treasury webinar in a series co-sponsored by MAC and others, state experts detailed projections for the economy in 2021 and 2022, emphasizing that a rebound in those years should be robust from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Projections are for unemployment in the state to continue falling, reaching under 6 percent by 2022. However, that’s still well above the pre-pandemic jobless rate.

Personal income also is bouncing back strongly but will not reach its pre-pandemic levels within the projection period (2021-22).

To see the presentation and recording of the webinar, click here.

 

Extension on ‘no reason’ remote board sessions awaits House action

A bill to expand “no reason” remote sessions for local boards cleared a House committee this week but did not get an expected vote in the full House chamber.

House Bill 6207, by Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Ottawa), which would change the state’s Open Meetings Act, cleared the House Ways and Means Committee, but the full House adjourned without getting to it this week.

The bill would extend the ability for local boards to meet remotely, for any reason, through March 31, 2021. It would also allow a local ordinance declaring a local emergency approved by a “local chief administrative officer,” sufficient to allow for remote meetings. MAC, the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association need modifications to the changes approved in October to ensure all jurisdictions, governing bodies and administrative officers would have the ability to declare local emergencies.

MAC is seeking a technical change to the most current version of the bill to reinsert “local governing body” to ensure boards that have already declared local emergencies are not affected and can be continued.

The bill is expected to move next week to the Senate and get to the governor’s desk before the end of the year.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Podcast 83 continues ‘lame duck’ episodes on Monday, Dec. 7

In another special LIVE video edition of Podcast 83 at 3 p.m. on Dec. 7, MAC’s Executive Director Stephan Currie and MAC’s advocacy team will discuss the ongoing “lame duck” session of the Michigan Legislature.

Among topics to receive updates:

  • Hot topics in the “lame duck” session
  • Status of additional COVID aid to counties

The Podcast 83 crew also will be taking your questions during the live session.

Just click on this link to register for the podcast. As always, a recording will be placed on the Podcast 83 page at a later date.

 

Senate approves tax shift on solar equipment         

The bills that would exempt solar energy equipment from ad valorem property taxes and replace such levies with a payment In Lieu of taxes (PILT) system were approved by the Senate this week. 

Senate Bills 1105 (by Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Mason)  and 1106 (by Sen. Kevin Daley, R-Lapeer) are now poised for swift action in the House.

The bill sponsors are advocates for the PILT approach because they represent areas that have been embroiled in litigation over the revenue that was expected when they allowed wind development.  A PILT agreement between the developers and the local units would provide a flat payment for the duration of the agreement (as opposed to a declining revenue stream based on a depreciation schedule) and would drastically reduce litigation surrounding valuation and payments.

While those are positive changes for counties and MAC is supportive of the PILT concept, the association is not supporting these two bills. 

The package would cap the reimbursements to local governments at $3,500 per megawatt of nameplate alternating current capacity (i.e., their generation capacity, not what they actually generate). MAC is opposed to this figure at this time because the experts who are studying it have not come up with an evaluation of the value or established if this is a fair reimbursement rate for each jurisdiction.

For example, this rate is less than 18 percent of what a full ad valorem tax rate would be on a currently established solar farm in East Lansing, though it may be a fair rate on rural land in outstate Michigan. More time is needed to determine appropriate reimbursements.

Also, MAC is seeking changes that will ensure local governments are not forced to accept solar developments; that require PILT payments will be collectable throughout the duration of the agreement; that require the equipment will be removed from the site once operations cease; and that includes language that will clarify that the real property on which the solar development is located is still subject to real property tax.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Reforms suggested by jail task force advance

Legislation inspired by a joint state-county task force on jail operations continued to advance in the Legislature this week, with the Senate sending bills to the House as part of an effort to finish them before the end of the year.

 Senate Bills 1046-1051 and SB 1125 would provide arrest alternative for some low-level offenders and modify probation and discharge eligibility.

The bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and are now before the House Judiciary Committee.

The House approved several reforms related to the task force earlier this year. In general, the House package would:

  • Eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences
  • Eliminate driver’s license suspension as a penalty for offenses unrelated to dangerous driving
  • Reclassify many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions

MAC is supportive of most of the bills in the entire package but is neutral on SBs 1046 and 1048.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

MAC looking for commissioners to join policy committees

The key panels that drive MAC’s policy positions in Lansing and Washington, D.C., are looking for new members to join their ranks in January.

MAC’s six policy committees (see below) meet monthly between January and May and then again between September and December. The committees are designed to debate legislation, receive presentations from government leaders and interest groups and craft MAC platform language that is then reviewed and adopted by the Board of Directors and general membership.

“If you want to be in the thick of helping MAC establish good policy for Michigan counties, these committees are the place to be,” said Deena Bosworth, MAC director of governmental affairs.

To join, you are asked to fill out an application form, which then goes to MAC’s Board President Veronica Klinefelt for approval and assignment. Ordinarily, members would have the option to attend sessions at MAC’s offices in Lansing or via teleconference, but due to COVID, all committee sessions are virtual for now.

Committee schedule

  • Finance and General Government – meets the 1st Friday at 10 a.m.
  • Environmental/Natural Resources/Regulatory Affairs – meets the 2nd Friday at 10 a.m.
  • Health and Human Services – meets the 4th Monday at 10 a.m.
  • Judiciary and Public Safety – meets the 4th Monday at 2 p.m.
  • Transportation and Infrastructure – meets the 4th Friday at 10 a.m.
  • Agriculture and Tourism – meets at the call of the chair

For questions on the committee process, contact Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Poverty-based property tax exemption advances

Bills that would extend a poverty exemption to the payment of property taxes by overburdened homeowners advanced out of House and Senate committees this week.

Senate Bill 1234, by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-Oakland, and House Bill 4828, by Rep. Wendell Byrd, D-Wayne, would continue the tax relief originally spurred by the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting economic and jobs crisis. The measures would extend the tax relief to 2023. SB 1234 is now before the full Senate, while HB 4828 is before the House Ways and Means Committee.

MAC is neutral on SB 1234 and has yet to take an official position on HB 4828.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Long-needed Headlee rollback fix introduced

A long-need alteration to how property values are handled under the Headlee Amendment was introduced in the House this week.

House Bill 6454, by Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Oakland), would change how Headlee rollback calculations are done. The bill will take out the increase in taxable value resulting from the “pop up” once a property changes ownership. By eliminating the “pop up” value increase from the rollback calculation, counties and other local governments will be able to actualize the increase in property tax revenue resulting from the sale and right-sizing of the property value, without being penalized by enhancing the millage reduction fraction requirements.

Some counties across the State regularly engage in Headlee rollback override votes, while other counties do not. This does not negate the rollback provision. It will not change the upper limit on millage rates and would not change the inflationary limit on increases to properties that do not change ownership.

MAC supports this legislation and is looking forward to discussions on the matter either this legislative session or next year.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Webinar offers training on autism, intellectual developmental disorders

In a live webinar on Friday, Dec. 11, county leaders can gain the knowledge and skills required to provide effective, equitable service to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder.

The session, which will run from 10 a.m. to noon, has content that is a culmination of information from a partnership of mental health and law enforcement professionals. Development and funding for this course is courtesy of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The class is free, with registration covered by funds made available by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. Click here to register. https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/6023386791939959042

 

In another special LIVE video edition of Podcast 83 at 3 p.m. on Dec. 7, MAC’s Executive Director Stephan Currie and MAC’s advocacy team will discuss the ongoing “lame duck” session of the Michigan Legislature.

Among topics to receive updates:

  • Hot topics in the “lame duck” session
  • Status of additional COVID aid to counties

The Podcast 83 crew also will be taking your questions during the live session.

Just click on this link to register for the podcast. As always, a recording will be placed on the Podcast 83 page at a later date. 

 

MDHHS order shuts down indoor dining, limits household gatherings

On Sunday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a new emergency order that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infection rates. The order takes effect on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

“Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However, MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department. The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly.

“Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators, however all other organized sports must stop. Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning but must end in-person classes.

MAC continues to advise all members to utilize the virtual meeting option they have under the Open Meetings Act, which was codified by the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October

For the latest Michigan news on the coronavirus, visit our Resources Page.

 

Mental health, law enforcement groups call on state for investment

A coalition of mental health and law enforcement groups announced this month a call to legislators to “invest in existing, proven state public health and safety programs.”

In their statement to all of Michigan’s elected officials and policy-makers, the organizations highlighted best-practices and longstanding partnerships that merit more attention and more funding.

The letter is signed by the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan. “It outlines the vital and productive partnerships between mental health professionals and law enforcement — partnerships that have existed for years but without truly sufficient policy engagement and funding from lawmakers and other leaders.”

In the letter, the groups noted:

“Existing initiatives between mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals, prosecuting attorneys and community mental health systems throughout Michigan include:

  • More than 50 mobile mental health crisis teams with skilled clinicians, or persons with lived mental health experiences, working in tandem with law enforcement agencies
  • Co-responder initiatives—skilled clinicians from the community mental health system participating in local road patrols for immediate and community crises response
  • Advanced training for law enforcement and medical personnel on how to recognize and interact with persons facing mental health challenges (tactics covering verbal de-escalation, crisis intervention training for adults and youth, responding to mental health emergencies)—endorsed by the Michigan Mental Health Diversion Council
  • Mental health and substance use disorder courts, sobriety courts, in-jail mental health and reentry programs”

 

MDHHS offers training sessions on handling mental health crises

Managing Mental Health Crisis is a series of webinars designed specifically for Michigan law enforcement, public safety and community mental health responders. It is funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, endorsed by the State of Michigan’s Diversion Council, MCOLES-approved and meets with MCOLES recommended annual officer trainings.

Live virtual classroom sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the following dates: Dec. 9-10, 16-17.

This course is the equivalent of the two-day classroom training. Participants must attend all four (4) sessions to receive a certificate. The sessions are free via support of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

To register and for more information, click here. Deadline to register is Dec. 8 and seating is limited to 47 participants.

 

Application period opens for 2021 NACo Achievement Awards

Applications are now open for the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2021 Achievement Awards. Please join us in celebrating 51 years of county innovation by applying today.

Since 1970, the NACo Achievement Awards have recognized outstanding county government programs and services. Through a non-competitive application process, noteworthy programs receive awards in 18 categories that cover a vast range of county responsibilities. By participating, your county can earn national recognition.

NACo will highlight the 18 “best of category” winners, as well as feature all winners in NACo materials and online. We also provide a customizable press release for you to share the good news with the media and residents.
We encourage all counties, parishes and boroughs to apply.

For more information, please review the Achievement Awards online brochure, or email awards@naco.org with any questions.

 

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