October 16, 2012


Legislature chair shakes up committees

Staff Reporter

In a move being criticized by some as an attempt to strong-arm legislators and stifle disagreement, Legislature Chairman Mike Park on Friday removed several legislators who have challenged him in the past from the Personnel and the Judiciary and Public Safety committees.
Park (R-Homer) removed Personnel Committee Chair Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer), and committee members Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil), Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) and John Natoli (R-8th Ward). Park also removed Briggs and Natoli from the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Park said Monday he reorganized the committees because he thought the legislators he removed were standing in the way of moving the county forward. He said these legislators stalled efforts to bring issues to the floor for debate such as the appointment process of department heads.
The Rules of Order Committee, a subcommittee of the Personnel Committee, in August rejected a recommendation made during a July Legislature workshop, which gave ultimate appointment authority to the county administrator.
The Rules Committee, at the prompting of Price and Briggs, favored instead having appointment authority rest in the hands of the Legislature.
But Park said that would move the county “backwards 20 years.” On Monday afternoon Tony Pace (D-7th Ward), new Personnel Committee chair, abolished the Rules of Order Committee, stating in an e-mail that the rules will instead be taken up with the Personnel Committee.
Briggs lamented this morning that all the work of the Rules of Order Committee has been for nothing, saying she is saddened by the state of affairs in the county.
Briggs, Price, Cornell and Natoli also all supported an effort to drop the entire investigation of former Public Defender Keith Dayton. The investigation was faulted by some for being done improperly and costing the county $16,000.
Legislators voting in favor of dropping the matter wanted to urge the district attorney not to proceed with a criminal investigation and pay Dayton the $17,244 vacation pay he says is owed to him.
A resolution to drop the matter failed by one vote last month.
Park said his reorganization has “nothing to do with Dayton” but said the vote on whether to drop the entire investigation was an example of rehashing decisions that were already made.
Park said he removed Natoli because Natoli intended to oppose all future resolutions since he did not believe Park and County Attorney Ed Purser and County Administrator Martin Murphy were qualified to hold those roles.
Natoli said Monday that the Dayton investigation was flawed from its start a year ago.
Natoli said Park just wants a uniform, rubber-stamp committee.
“He just doesn’t like people that don’t agree with his way of thinking,” Natoli said. “He wants to be a dictator.”
Briggs agrees.
“I think Mr. Park is of the theory of, ‘my way or the highway,’ and if you don’t agree with him then he wants to eliminate you,” she said.
Briggs faulted Park for “shutting down” the thousands of constituents represented by her and the other legislators who were removed.
But she said she would continue to represent them with debates on the floor of the Legislature.
Park said his removal is not about getting his own way.
He said Briggs said on the record she doubted the Legislature would work together in the future and she fought everything he wanted to see done.
“The majority of them were not cooperating or doing anything to move us forward,” Park said. “They were constantly bringing up stuff, decisions that were already decided on.”
He said he removed Cornell because Cornell opposed some moves that Park had suggested, such as consolidating the Personnel and the Budget and Finance committees.
“He didn’t feel that was necessary and I was concerned about the direction that committee was trying to take things,” Park said.
Cornell said disagreement should be embraced.
“It used to be, years ago, when it was all right for legislators to disagree on issues and just move forward,” Cornell said.
Price said she was surprised and disappointed Friday when she read the email from Park. She said she will stay busy with her other county assignments.
Legislators Newell Willcox (R-Homer), Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) and Amy Cobb (D-3rd Ward) will be the Personnel Committee replacements while Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) will be the Judiciary and Public Safety replacement; the committee becoming a six-member committee.
Cornell is taking Fuller’s seat on the Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee.


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