County Board considering adding two members to serve on Crawford County Road Commission
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners is considering changing the number of board members on the Crawford County Road Commission from three to five members.
The county board held a public hearing on the proposed change at its regular monthly meeting held on Thursday, Nov. 29.
The option was brought forward in an effort to bring better representation from outlying areas in the county. There is also a concern about board members’ attendance at meetings to handle the official business for the road commission. A quorum on the road commission can be met with two members in order to hold a meeting.
Dave Stephenson, chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, noted that a state statute prevents the county from setting up districts for the road commission like the county board has. The issue would have to be addressed by Lansing lawmakers.
“That may take a legislative change, and that could happen, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Stephenson said.
Lovells Township Supervisor Gary Neumann said having districts for the road commission would makes it easier to address issues throughout the county.
“It’s a positive thing for the folks in the trenches in my opinion,” he said.
Lovells Township resident Roger Popp, who sits on an ad hoc committee to study the road conditions in the township, was not pleased that districts could not be formed.
“If you look at the map, we could have the four corners and the center represented,” he said. “I’m really disheartened that it could not be covered as simple as that.”
Ryan Halstead, the vice chairman of the road commission, said adding two road commissioners to the board would cost the road commission over $100,000 for two six-year terms on the road commission.
The county board could make the decision to add two more members, but the road commission would incur the increased cost.
“I’m never for bigger government by any means,” Halstead said.
Earlier this year, the road commission agreed to partner with Grayling Charter Township to repair Roberts Road and roads in the Sherwood Forest subdivision. Residents in those areas were asked to pay a special tax assessment to fix the roads.
The projects, however, were delayed by a labor dispute between the Michigan Department of Transportation and unions representing road contractors.
Stephenson said it was unfortunate that the labor dispute has come into play, when considering adding more members to the road commission.
“Everything came to screeching halt,” he said. “Well, the easy thing was to point the finger at the local people, so that’s kind of where that went. There’s a lot of issues that kicked back into this.”
Don Babcock, the managing director for the road commission, said better attendance at road commission meetings would improve communication with county residents.
“I don’t know that a five-person board the way this is set up would be any different to be honest with you,” Babcock said. “Certainly, if we had more people show up at board meetings, we talk pretty informally there and you can voice your opinions there, and the board takes those into consideration.”
County Commissioner Rick Anderson argued that increased cost would not matter if there is a more diverse group on the road commission.
“One hundred thousand dollar is a drop in the bucket if you’re going to get better representation,” Anderson said.
Stephenson said the county board could appoint two road commission members to staggered terms, and then they would go before voters to get elected in future years. He added that if all five road commissioners would be appointed, that would have to go before Crawford County voters to decide. The county board switched from appointing road commissioners to electing them about 20 years ago after dealing with legal issues with a pair of former road commission members and a former administrator.
Without districts, Anderson said there were no guarantees that road board members serving outlying areas in the county would be elected. He added that since Grayling Charter Township and City of Grayling have a greater concentration of voters, people from those areas would have a better chance in getting elected.
“It’s a popularity contest,” Anderson said. “It really is.”
Road Commissioner Gary Summers said there is already a lack of interest in getting people to run for road commission seats.
Halstead, who ran unopposed for his seat on the board this year, agreed.
“The lack of interest in the road commission is really, really sad,” Halstead said.
County Commission Laurie Jamison, who serves as a liaison to the road commission, said the proposal to add members should not reflect on the job the road commission is doing.
“They’re doing a great job with what they have to work with,” Jamison said.
County commissioners noted that they were just in the stages of gathering information on the road commission member issue last week. A vote on the issue could come this month, or the county board may hold off until after Jan. 1 after two new county commissioners take their seats on the board.