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Washtenaw county administrator Greg Dill

Dill's Moment

It took nearly two years, but the county finally has a new administrator.

by Eve Silberman

From the December, 2016 issue

In February 2016, the county board of commissioners appointed county infrastructure boss Greg Dill as interim administrator. Last month, it gave him the job permanently.

The appointment ended a messy, drawn-out search process that began in February 2015, when administrator Verna McDaniel told the board she was stepping down. After a long search and much disagreement, the board appeared poised to hire parks director Bob Tetens back in May--only to cancel the final vote when a straw poll indicated that he would have had only a one-vote majority. (Several board members argued that an administrator needed stronger backing to succeed.)

A new search was launched, and Tetens again emerged as a finalist, but by then--impressed by his performance as the interim chief--the board had fallen in love with Dill. Even commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz, who supported Tetens in May's straw poll, says Dill has "done a fine job. The period he was administrator ran smoothly and without difficulty."

Dill is "not a dramatic person," observes commissioner Andy LaBarre. "He's a guy who tries to find solutions that work." In his final interview in October, he impressed commissioners with specifics of what he hopes to accomplish, from reexamining investment funds to holding meetings in communities around the county. He also promised to quickly fill three key positions: deputy administrator, public defender, and his own old job, infrastructure management.

Dill inherits a host of problems, from a squeezed-to-the-bone mental health system to the Gelman groundwater contamination. Even so, he's got it easier than his predecessor: during the Great Recession, McDaniel was forced to cut annual spending by more than $30 million. "We are starting to get a little healthy," he says. "No new money, but we're starting to see some sustainability in our budget."

Expecting "flat" growth for some time to come, he's been meeting monthly with Ann Arbor city administrator Howard Lazarus to discuss potential cost-saving measures, including consolidating services. He'd also like to explore more partnerships with both nonprofits and businesses, along

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the lines of the recently formed Economic Development Coordinating Committee.

Dill grew up in Flint, the oldest of four kids raised by a single mom who worked the assembly line. Active in high school student government and sports, he graduated from Eastern with a business degree; his first job out of college was as a maintenance supervisor at the former Rouge Steel. From there, he moved into various managerial jobs, first at Eastern (where he added an MBA) and later as director of facilities at Lincoln Consolidated Schools. That led to a similar position with the county in 2002; he later worked with sheriff Jerry Clayton, who praises his sensitivity in handling the thorny negotiations over the cost of the "contract policing" the sheriff provides for cities and townships. "He understood that relationships with people are important," says Clayton.

Dill's one publicized setback happened when he left the county in 2007 to take an administrative position with the Oak Park schools. After he paid to retile the floor and install lockers in a school gym where he showered after running, a couple of board members complained that he had created his own "luxurious gym." He was cleared of wrongdoing by the Oak Park police and then, again, by Clayton, when he hired him.

He and his wife, Debra Dill, a U-M employee, live in Ypsilanti Township near Ford Lake. Their oldest daughter goes to Michigan State, the younger to Lincoln High. "My wife and I have loved being in this area," he says.

Full of praise for Tetens, who now reports to him, Dill appreciates the quirkiness of his path to the county's top job: the commissioners chose him as interim because he had withdrawn his name from the search the first time around (he applied the second time).

Says county prosecutor Brian Mackie, "Mostly he made his own luck, just by proving he was up to the task."     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2016.]


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