Our Livingston County Commissioners proved once again that they are small, petty people obsessed with maintaining total control. No issue is too minor for them to turn into a partisan power grab.
The latest power grab came Monday when they refused to confirm a Democrat to the Livingston County Jury Commission.
The commission is not a panel with wide-ranging power to raise your taxes, mandate mask usage, allow black or brown people to move to our county, seize our guns, or allow women to make up their own minds about what happens to their bodies.
It’s an obscure commission that meets once a year for half an hour to approve the procedures that the 44th Circuit Court has in place for picking jurors, which is basically a computerized system. The pay is $25 a year.
For years, two Democrats and one Republican served on the panel, in keeping with state law that requires that panel members come from more than one political party as is appropriate for serving our nonpartisan court system. Their appointments to six-year terms require approval of the county commission.
On March 30, Chief Judge Michael P. Hatty nominated three people to the panel – incumbent Nancy Sauvage, Billy Green (a former county commissioner), and Dane Morris.
The county’s personnel committee, chaired by Commissioner Doug Helzerman, took up the appointments on April 21 but tabled them. On April 26, an hour before the commission’s full board meeting, it took them up again.
Helzerman used the interval to call Morris and ask about his political affiliation. He also did an internet search on Morris and found out he once ran as a Democrat for county commissioner.
Helzerman presented the information to the committee, which this time was attended by Commission Chair Wes Nakagiri, who has had a vendetta against the county courts ever since he joined the commission, trying to prove they are overstaffed based on weak comparisons to other counties. So the all-powerful jury commission gave him an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone – take a swipe at the courts and at Democrats.
So Nakagiri spoke against Morris’ nomination because having more than one Democrat on the commission would give Democrats too much influence relative to the party’s strength in the county and that only one Democrat more fairly reflected Democratic presence in the county. He said it didn’t matter if there were only two members – rather than the statutorily required three members – because two would constitute a quorum.
An hour later, the full commission added the appointments to its agenda without advance notice to the public and separated out Morris’s appointment from the other two. It approved the other two, but no one would make a motion to approve Morris – not even Commissioner Carol Sue Reader, a former judge who should have some respect for the nonpartisan nature of the courts and not even after Hatty told the commission that all the appointees were citizens of good standing who care about the community.
There is a silver lining, however: Nakagiri apparently espouses the principle that Democratic representation on county boards and commissions should reflect our party’s strength. Fine with us. We’ll take three county commission seats and 38 percent of the planning commission, the solid waste commission, the parks and open spaces advisory commission, and every other body that exists at the county level.
It’s only fair.