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| 3 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners is looking for public input to help it with its decision as it examines the future of how the county road commission should be governed.

At its last meeting, the county board of commissioners passed a resolution to set two public hearings to receive comment on whether it should transfer the powers, duties and functions of the Washtenaw County Road Commission to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

The hearings are scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23 and 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, both in the Board Room of the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main Street in Ann Arbor.

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The county board of commissioners has also looked to local municipalities for input. Both Dexter and Webster townships have offered up their opinions.

The Sun Times News reached out to Dexter Township Supervisor Harley Rider back in June about the topic because that’s when the Dexter Township Board voted on a recommending resolution.

Rider said then that the County Board of Commissioners has the opportunity to take over the Road Commission and disband the Board of Road Commissioners.

“The legislature has given a sunset on this option of 1/1/20, but a bill has been introduced to extend that to 2025,” Rider said then.

The WCRC is the county-level road agency in Washtenaw County and is responsible for maintaining a road system that is reasonably safe and convenient to the traveling public. The agency is governed by a three-member Board of County Road Commissioners and the day-to-day operations are overseen by a managing director and carried out by its 130 employees.

The WCRC is divided into three departments: Operations, Engineering, and Administration.

Rider said the county board of commissioners has made it one of their 13 priorities for this year to study the option of the WCRC’s future. Although the board of commissioners does not oversee the WCRC’s budget, it does select the WCRC board members and when the opportunity comes about, can change the way it is managed.

So where does Dexter Township stand?

“The Dexter Township Board unanimously opposes the County Board of Commissioners doing anything to change the Road Commission, as the current structure of an independent Board of Road Commissioners works well for the townships,” Rider said. “We are concerned that a County Board of Commissioners, with a majority representing cities and urban areas, wouldn’t be in the best interest of the rural communities, as the Road Commission doesn’t have anything to do with city streets/roads.”

He said Dexter Township passed a similar resolution back in 2014 when the former sunset was January 2015.

In Webster Township, the township board issued its view at its Oct. 15 meeting.

The township board, by a 5 to 1 vote, made its recommendation to maintain the WCRC board as an independent agency, but that it should expand its governing board from three to five members and additionally, asked it to make improvements to its communications and public interactions.

Part of the reasoning to recommend it go from three to five is so WCRC board members could talk together about an issue without violating the open meetings act. Currently it’s the view of some that if two of the three WCRC board members met and discussed a matter then that might be a quorum and therefore they should discuss things openly in a public meeting.   

Webster Township Supervisor John Kingsley said in spite of the criticism and bad condition of some of the roads; he thinks the WCRC has done a fair job. He said however the WCRC could do some work at improving its public relations and become more service-oriented with an emphasis on people skills.

He also said he doesn’t like conditions of some roads, but he understands it’s a dollar and cents issue that the WCRC doesn’t have much control over.

In the recent past, Webster Township has taken in many complaints from residents about interactions with the WCRC and some of its actions, such as tree cutting on the sides of roads, and proposed actions, such as the roadside spraying that was supposed to happen this past summer, but was stopped after much public input opposing it.

Webster Township trustee John Westman said there are residential concerns, but he also said communication is a two-way street and it’s on both the WCRC and resident to demonstrate respect.

Webster Township board trustee Brant Savander was the no vote and said the WCRC’s autonomy might be the shield that’s allowed some of the bad behavior to go on. He said he thinks there should be some form of additional oversight, especially since the WCRC has an annual budget of $71 million. He said there have been many concerns from residents about interactions with the WCRC and he’s not sure things have been addressed.

He said the good things about the WCRC should be kept, but the issues and concerns need to be properly addressed.

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