Dec. 7 2018 12:01 AM

Democrats maintain heavy majority following election

FRIDAY, DEC. 7 — It might take a while for the newcomers to adjust to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, but many contended the widespread turnover in recent months won’t carry much of an impact.


County residents last month elected four new Democratic commissioners to the board: Mark Polsdofer, Derrell Slaughter, Emily Stivers and Chris Trubac. Slaughter was recently appointed to an early start. The others are pegged to take their seats at the first of the year following a largely Democratic, electoral sweep.


Factor in commissioners Thomas Morgan and Nathan Triplett — both appointed to fill vacancies following the recent resignations of Dennis Louney and Carol Koenig — and six new commissioners will have cycled onto the board in fewer than five months. And some commissioners are looking forward to some fresh perspectives.


“It’s going to be some new ideas and some new voices at the table,” said Commissioner Bryan Crenshaw. “There’s a small learning curve no matter where you go in political office. But it’s not like these people ran for the office without any idea of what we do. I’m sure they did their research and their homework on the county.”


Commissioner Ryan Sebolt said each newcomer brings his or her own breed of knowledge to the table. Slaughter, as an example, is heavily focused on health care and criminal justice. Stivers has experience with nonprofits. And Triplett, a former East Lansing mayor and Councilman, is the chairman of the board of directors at the Capital Area Transportation Authority.


“We get along fairly well on the county commission,” Sebolt said. “Partisan politics rarely comes into play, and most of the decisions we make are unanimous. I think we’ll continue to get along well despite the turnover. I don’t think this will be detrimental or slow us down significantly at all. These are smart and capable people.”


But at least one official thinks the relative lack of experience in county government — paired with the inevitable learning curve — will lead to an upcoming “period of time where not much is going on.”


Commissioner Mark Grebner said the impasse also arrived at a time when the board should be “rethinking” continued operations.


“This isn’t a group that’s going to seize control and reinvent the future,” Grebner added. “The future is getting away from us. It’s not that we’re running from it. We’re just standing in place. We’ve almost become this sort of historic curiosity. Why not rethink services? This turnover prevents us from developing any real momentum.


“If we had any sort of crisis on our hands, this is not the board that’s going to be able to deal with it.”


Chairman Victor Celentino disagreed. He said the turnover on the board isn’t exactly unusual. Six new commissioners were elected at the turn of the century. And Ingham County is known as a legislative incubator for future leadership positions. Sarah Anthony and Kara Hope, for instance, were elected to the state Legislature.


“It’s a tough county to be a commissioner,” explained Commissioner Randy Schafer. “You have all these governmental entities here. The lobbyists are here. It’s a hotbed of activities. There’s no question that this board is a major stepping stone for a lot of people. They like the excitement and the energy of being near the capital.”


Koenig also plans to return to the board after losing her bid for countywide public defender, again shifting the composition of the board. She resigned to apply for the job but won a bid for re-election in November.


Commissioners instead opted to recommend Assistant Ingham County Prosecutor Russel Church for the post.


“It’s a rather unique situation with the number of new commissioners but I don’t think there’s going to be an impact on the functioning of the county,” added Commissioner Randy Maiville. “As far as the ability to handle a crisis? We have a number of good people on staff that handle the day-to-day issues. I think we’ll be just fine.”


The commission’s Democratic Caucus earlier this month selected Crenshaw and Sebolt to serve as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, for the new year. And Commissioner Robin Naeyaert was picked to serve as vice chairwoman pro-tem. The board is set to finalize those selections at their organizational meeting on Jan. 2.


Celentino was also assigned as chairman of the County Services Committee. Todd Tennis will chair the Human Services Committee. Grebner will head the Finance Committee and Koenig — assuming she returns to the board — was nominated as chairwoman of the Law and Courts Committee.


“There’s really no way the Democrats can lose control of the board until voting patterns change,” Grebner added. “I think it’s safe to say that we’ll maintain control over that board for the foreseeable future.”