A ruling handed down last week by the Court of Appeals is a call to action for the voices of government reform and accountability.
On its surface, the case, involving Macomb County's government, may appear to be a squabble of little significance. However, it is far from being much ado about nothing.
The precise details involving Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Board of Commissioners are irrelevant, but the underlying issue concerns all Michiganders.
In Bay, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, an executive — essentially a mayor — is elected to oversee the day-to-day governance and administration. This enables the electorate to hold county government directly accountable, while also creating checks and balances that don't exist in the other 79 counties, where legislative and executive duties and responsibilities not belonging to the sheriff and other elected functionaries are exercised in something resembling a parliamentary system by a board of commissioners.
Yet even in these counties the structure differs.
In some places, governing is done by committee and sub-committee. Not only does this diminish accountability, as no single politician can be held accountable, but it also creates uncertainty as the entire board, which varies in size depending on a county's population, is up for election every two years.
Elsewhere, commissioners delegate much of their responsibility to an unelected bureaucrat with a title of coordinator, controller, manager or administrator.
Over the years, this pencil-pusher evolved from a sort of chief of staff largely responsible for coordination between plenary sessions of the board to a powerful figure with viceregal authority. Because the position is unelected, there is zero accountability, unless a majority of the board agrees — something unlikely to happen when commissioners get away with taking credit for the work done by someone else.The full column will be posted once the newspaper publishes.
— Dennis Lennox