The untimely and unforeseen death of Hamburg’s Dennis Dolan has, for the second time in as many months, presented members of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners with the opportunity of filling a vacancy on the board.
Perhaps they will be able to do so this time. But the situation is fraught with political intrigue.
Those home-bound residents bored out of their mind will recall that when Howell’s Don Parker resigned in February, the eight remaining commissioners were unable to break a 4-4 tie to replace him. A state-imposed deadline has passed and there must now be a slightly confusing special election to fill the few weeks left in the remainder of his term, as well as the regularly scheduled election to fill a new term that begins next January.
Now there are only seven members on the board, so a tie is unlikely when it comes to filling Dolan’s term until the end of the year. I have no idea who would be in line for the spot from Hamburg, but someone should be able to win over the votes of a majority.
What is curious — and this is pure speculation without a scintilla of fact or research — is whether there is a bloc on the board committed to naming Parker as the county’s new county administrator, a plum job for a guy with scant experience. And will that desire influence the selection of the Hamburg replacement?
Parker, a Howell attorney who works at his father’s firm, resigned as the $18,000-a-year chair of the county board so he could apply for the vacant county administrator’s job, which pays about $140,000 a year. Conspiracy-addicts can’t be blamed if they surmise that Parker had some discussions with his colleagues about his prospects before tendering his resignation.
What’s not speculation is that next January there will be a minimum of five new faces on the nine-member board, a turnover of more than half those serving as recently as Groundhog’s Day.
In addition to the loss of Parker and Dolan, the commission will lose Bob Bezotte, who is running for state representative, and William Green, who has announced he will not seek re-election. Also likely gone is former Republican Gary Childs who, out of frustration, announced he was switching parties mid-term; even if he runs again, his odds of winning as a Democrat are paltry.
Which is a significant point.
The county board has been all-Republican for as long as most care to remember, a point often trumpeted by county Democrats who argue that the single-party nature leads to a lack of oversight and meaningful debate.
That’s why a core of Democrats are running for countywide office this year under the campaign promise that they can bring some needed fairness and sanity to the once-a-decade task of setting commission districts based on the latest census.
The suggestion is that the Republican-dominated, five-person panel that draws the district lines does so with an intention of making sure each district will be won by a Republican. It’s a dubious claim in that one would have to use an Etch-a-Sketch to draw a district in Livingston County that would give a Democrat a chance to win.
The panel doesn’t so much draw Republican-friendly districts. Rather, they keep an eye out to protect incumbents so a pair don’t end up in the same newly defined district. A perverted version of that happened way back in the 1980s when some Republicans didn’t like a fellow Republican on the board and, so the rumor-mill claimed, conspired to have a district line drawn almost through his backyard so that he would be pitted against another, well-positioned Republican. But I digress.
So what will be the consequences if five or more new faces adorn the county board next January? Maybe not much, if they are all still toeing the Republican Party line and making sure they appear righteously conservative enough to win the lightly attended August primary, which is where Livingston County elections are won.
In many ways, the county commissioners aren’t all that essential, as long as they hire a capable county administrator and get out of his or her way. That’s not intended to diminish the county board’s role; making the right hire is a vital task.
So that brings us full circle to whatever intrigue may be surrounding the selection of the county’s next administrator — a selection in which one of the candidates was, until six weeks ago, one of their own. And it is a decision that may be swayed by the newest, still unknown and unelected board member from Hamburg Township.