County sets stage for 2018 at organizational meeting

The Manistee County Board of Commissioners met for its annual organizational meeting on Tuesday morning. (News Advocate file photo)

The Manistee County Board of Commissioners met for its annual organizational meeting on Tuesday morning. (News Advocate file photo)

MANISTEE — The Manistee County Board of Commissioners set the stage for the new year Tuesday morning at its annual organizational meeting.

The board met to name a vice chairperson; appoint its representative to the Local Revenue Sharing Board; and schedule regular monthly meeting dates and times for 2018, among a few other housekeeping items.

Commissioners unanimously elected incumbent vice chair Brook Shafer to again serve in the role for a one-year term.

Nominations for board chairperson was not necessary, because, at last year’s organizational meeting, commissioner Jeff Dontz was unanimously elected chair for a two-year term, which expires at the end of 2018.

When nominating the county’s representative to the revenue sharing board, a debate from the past was rehashed as commissioner Richard Schmidt expressed concern over the incumbent representative, Shafer, and namely his stance on the public safety granting process.

“Nothing against Brook personally, but I think we need a change on that board,” Schmidt said. “(Shafer) has stated that he does not believe public safety is anything but police, fire and EMS. I think we should have a more neutral representative.”

Under the gaming compact and amendment between the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the State of Michigan, the local revenue sharing board receives 2 percent of electronic gaming profits from the Little River Casino Resort and is required to distribute at least 12.5 percent of that amount through public safety grants to various governmental bodies in the county two times a year.

In recent years, “public safety” purposes have been broadly defined in the application process. For instance, repaving a hazardous sidewalk or parking lot could be up for board consideration.

After being appointed to the revenue sharing board a year ago, Shafer pointed out that in the revenue sharing board’s compact and bylaw language, public safety grants “shall be paid to local public safety organizations for public safety purposes.”

“If you look at the compact, it’s very specific,” Shafer said at the time. “It says ‘public safety organization.’ … When I look at that in black and white, it tells me that the 12.5 percent is supposed to go to ‘public safety organizations.’ … That is defined as fire, police and EMS. I don’t think that’s open for interpretation.”

Shafer argued that if it wasn’t the intent of the compact to award public safety organizations specifically, then there wouldn’t be a separate category in place for additional public safety or other lawful local government purpose grants.

Schmidt took umbrage, specifically, to Shafer’s stance on the Manistee County Library’s request for funds to aid in a floor replacement project last winter, which included asbestos remediation.

“There is public safety and there is safety of the public,” Shafer said at the time. “If it comes down to the point where I can buy vests for police officers or carpet for the library, I’m going with the vests for the police officers.”

Shafer believed the library’s request should have been submitted under “additional public safety or other lawful local government purpose grants.” In recent years, however — as casino revenue declined — funds for grant requests outside of the public safety category have generally not been available.

“It still raises a big concern with me if you don’t think asbestos (remediation) is worthy of a grant,” Schmidt reiterated on Tuesday.

Shafer said the revenue sharing board has discussed the issue at length over the course of the year.

“I still stand by the bylaws,” he said Tuesday, “but if you remember, I also prefaced what I have said: If those requests from public safety organizations were satisfied, or at least provided for, then I would entertain other organizations and their requests.

“There have been instances where monies have been given out to organizations that did not come close to being about public safety. That’s why I wanted to bring it up to the (revenue sharing) board,” he said. “If the (county) board does not want me to continue to provide the expertise I have in fire and rescue, so be it.

“But, that’s why I want to be on the (revenue sharing) board: I’m able to ask questions to those requesting grants … that a person who doesn’t have a background (in public safety) may not think to ask.”

Ultimately, commissioners reappointed Shafer to the revenue sharing board for 2018 by a 5-1 vote, with Schmidt dissenting and commissioner Mark Bergstrom absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The three-member revenue sharing board is made up of representatives from Manistee County, the City of Manistee and Manistee Township.

In scheduling their monthly meeting dates and times for the calendar year on Tuesday, commissioners again agreed to hold a trio of evening meetings (beginning at 5 p.m.), instead of slating all 12 for the typical 9 a.m. start time.

The aim of scheduling the select few evening meetings — which the board did in 2017 as well — is to encourage attendance from public citizens who are otherwise unable to make meetings that begin in the morning on a weekday.

The board scheduled these evening meetings for March 27, May 15 and Sept. 18, all beginning at 5 p.m.

The remaining monthly meetings will begin at 9 a.m. on Jan. 16, Feb. 20, April 24, June 19, July 17, Aug. 21, Oct. 23, Nov. 20 and Dec. 18.

These regular meetings are held, generally, on the third Tuesday of each month with the exception of March, April and October, in which the board will meet on the fourth Tuesday. All meetings are open to the public and will be held in the commissioners meeting room of the Manistee County Courthouse and Government Center, located at 415 Third St. in Manistee.

Commissioners also adopted the board rules of procedure for 2018 and passed a resolution to authorize county use of various financial institutions for the year, as requested by the Manistee County treasurer. Both items are essentially formalities for the board to approve annually.

The last item of business on Tuesday’s organizational meeting agenda was to assign commissioners to the board’s various committees. With no new commissioners to assign this year, the board elected to retain all committee assignments from last year.

The Manistee County Board of Commissioners is made up of Dontz, Shafer, Schmidt, Bergstrom, Margaret Batzer, Karen Goodman and Pauline Jaquish.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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