CADILLAC — On a night when very little was on the regular agenda, one Wexford County commissioner made sure a recent meeting was one to remember.
District 8 Commissioner Judy Nichols used her commissioner comments at Wednesday’s Wexford County Board of Commissioners meeting to read a prepared statement, which discussed her belief there is an imbalance in the current board. She believes the imbalance starts with chairman Gary Taylor and vice-chairman Mike Bengelink.
She also referred to meetings regarding the privatization of animal shelter and another meeting discussing issues at the new jail. Nichols contends all commissioners are entitled to part of the discussion. She also talked about the duration of the four committee meetings, executive, finance and appropriations, recreation and building and human resources and public safety, for being “short and sweet‘ because she believed “business is all wrapped up before the meetings convene.‘
Finally, she referenced a decision by the human resources committee that didn’t follow the recommendation of administrator Janet Koch regarding a change in a county employee’s position level.
After Nichols finished reading her prepared statement, District 9 Commissioner Brian Potter respectfully disagreed with her inferences. He said he was compelled to comment on Nichols’ statement because he wanted it on the record that he does not share her beliefs and because he believes all current commissioners are acting in the best interest of the county.
After the meeting, Nichols said during her time on the board she always felt “there was an inner circle of people who make decisions.‘ When asked if she could prove collusion was happening, Nichols said she didn’t have proof “like you would look for in a court of law.‘
She also said she feels she is isolated from discussions because she asks questions.
“People will say I’m disgruntled at the board because I don’t feel like they are transparent enough and that we are working together as a team,‘ she said. “It just depends on whose side you are on if you are part of the team or not.‘
Board chairman Gary Taylor said he agreed with commissioner Potter and he doesn’t understand where Nichols’ comments are coming from. He said he does meet with county department heads regularly to ask questions regarding issues that are coming up at board meetings. He continued by saying all nine commissioners should be meeting with county staff if they have questions about something coming up on the agenda.
He also said he is not trying to micromanage anything or anyone including administrator Janet Koch.
“I was shocked by what she said and it is hard to respond to something like that,‘ Taylor said. “She is welcome to voice her opinion on anything but she rarely does.‘
Koch said any decision the board should be making is always brought before the board. She also is making sure county policy is followed, which is what was done when the human resources committee changed a county employee’s position level without it going to the full board as allowed by Policy A-1.3 in the Human Resources and Safety Committee Guidelines.
“By county policy, the HR committee has the authority to approve employee reclassifications and position descriptions. Typically, it goes to the finance committee and the full board but due to there being a vacancy in the office and money in the clerk’s budget for it — it didn’t need to,‘ Koch said.
Ultimately, Nichols said she hopes her recent statement will lead to more cooperation and transparency on the board.
“I just want to see us cooperate, talk to each other and not feel like you are isolated because you ask too many questions,‘ she said.
The Wexford County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet again at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 in the Commissioners Room on the third floor of the Wexford County Courthouse, 437 E. Division St.