Oct 22, 2010
Tough question shuts down chamber forum
The Livingston County Board of Commissioners is hoping that voters are stupid, and they are doing everything possible to hide more than $101 million in bad debt taxpayers are in the hook for until after then Nov. 2 election.
The Livingston County Democratic Party brought to light that the all-Republican Board of Commission backed $101 million in principal and interest from bonds by townships for Special Assessment Districts (SAD) for water and sewer infrastructure for developers to be paid back when people moved into the new developments, but because of the Bush recession, many developers just walked away, leaving the township and county taxpayers holding the bag.
The Democrats have been demanding that the county come clean by holding a townhall meeting to explain the situation, but the county has done everything legally possible to hide the extent of the bad debt from the public. On Thursday at its monthly breakfast meeting, the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce had county officials come in and make a presentation that turned out to be little more than a campaign speech. If you anted up your $25 to get into the event hosted by the most pro-Republican organization in the world, you simply heard a whitewash, and the first time a tough, or any question, was asked the chamber director ended the forum.
According to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, it was nothing but a campaign speech from Board Chair Maggie Jones. She only talked about the great things the county has accomplished, but the fact that most of the stuff - like the Livingston County Ambulance, which has been around since 1971 – took place years ago.
For the all the good news, the Board has had its share of mismanagement that always gets swept under the rug, like the foreclosure crisis in Livingston County, which has the highest rate of property tax foreclosures in the region, awful roads and the financial drain at the county airport.
The Board has tried to hide the debt by forming something called the “Debt Management Committee,” and it meets the bare minimums of the Open Meetings Act by placing the notice of its meeting on a bulletin board in the board offices. After the county Democrats submitted a FOIA request for the meeting minutes, it turned out they had not even been approved. Only after they received the FOIA request did they even approve 10 sets of meeting minutes, going back for more than a year shortly after getting the FOIA request.
Conveniently, the chair of the sub-committee is not running for re-election after four terms on the board, giving the board a possible scapegoat.
The local daily newspaper has done a lousy job acting as a watchdog on the all-GOP board, but they could no longer ignore the minutes deception. Last week it finally came out it with an editorial on it. The Republican editorial board hates to criticize Republicans, so the criticism was very muted and couched as more of a question.
“But (Commissioner Jack) LaBelle said there was nothing "sinister" about the lack of minutes on this most critical committee. Then he said that the board didn't want to be "pitting the county against townships." Such a comment makes it seem that the Democrats are correct in saying that the county board was trying to keep the public in the dark about the nature of this issue, particularly since county officials have more recently suggested that some township officials were reluctant to acknowledge the possible inability to pay the looming debt payments.”
Pretty tame. The editorial should have demanded transparency from the board and administration, and it should have demanded the county hold a townhall meeting to inform the public of the extent of the problem and the possibility of an emergency financial manager taking over some townships.
By the way, this would be a townhall meeting where taxpayers don’t have to pay $25 to hear from their elected officials.