In Ann Arbor, the issues are social services and the budget.
With Jeff Irwin running for the state house (see “Musical Chairs in Lansing”), four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for his District Eleven seat on the county board of commissioners. The district runs from downtown to the southeast side, roughly overlapping Ann Arbor’s Third Ward. It’s one of two contested county commission primary races in the city.
LuAnne Bullington, sixty-three, says she’s running to protect and expand human services: “I want a twenty-four/seven warming and cooling center where homeless people can go when they can’t get into the Delonis Center,” she says, “and a twenty-four/seven engagement center for [outreach to] people with drug and alcohol problems.” To help pay for this, Bullington would seek to end the Local Development Finance Authority that redirects some property taxes to SPARK, the economic development agency. The president of SPARK gets paid $260,000 a year, she notes, adding, “I’d like to see that money used in other places.”
Yousef Rabhi, twenty-two, also wants to protect human services. “I’m not talking about expanding them,” Rabhi says, “but making sure they stay funded, although I would reinstate the recently cut juvenile drug offender program.” Rabhi says he has “the energy, the positivism, and the vision to get the job done.”
Alice Ralph, fifty-nine, cites “resilient policy” and “core responsibilities” as her two big issues. “By resilient policy, I mean to look forward while we’re figuring out how to pay our bills to prepare us for the new realities. We have to look at the performance of the various programs and services so we can bounce back without being held back.
“By core responsibilities,” Ralph continues, “I mean the five offices that come from general fund–treasurer, clerk, water [commissioner], sheriff, and county prosecutor. If we’re good at budgeting for them, we’ll be able to take care of core responsibilities and protect human services.” If there’s not enough money, however, Ralph says she would consider a “human services millage.”
“The board needs to review and prioritize services,” says Mike Fried, sixty-eight. As the retired administrator of the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and a veteran of several non-profit boards, he says, “I understand county budgets, I understand nonprofits, I know the criminal justice system.”
In the northwest side District Ten, which includes parts of Ann Arbor’s First and Second Wards, three-term commissioner Conan Smith faces challenger Danielle Mack.
Mack, thirty, says her core issue is homelessness–and it’s personal. After staying at Delonis Center and living and working at Camp Take Notice, the homeless tent city, “I realized the measures in place right now are inadequate, and they need to be reprioritized,” she says. She doesn’t think other services would have to be cut, though–she figures “there’s money hidden somewhere in the budget that could be found.”
Incumbent Smith, thirty-eight, says he hasn’t “focused on human services because [county commissioners] Leigh Gunn and Barbara Bergman own human services and I trust in them to keep me apprised.” Instead, Smith has concentrated on finances. “As budget chair, I knew it was going to be tough, so a year and a half ago I laid out the mission, pulled the team together, got the county administrator to bring stakeholders to table, and focused on how do we deliver services in the right way and the right places.”
The winner in the District Eleven Democratic primary will face Joe Baublis, a self-described “Tea Party Republican,” in November. With no Republican challenger in District Ten, the August 3 primary is winner-take-all.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the August 2010 Ann Arbor Observer. Joe Baublis’s name and Conan Smith’s age have been corrected.