Virtual Meetings Ensure Residents Can Still Be Heard
We are living in unprecedented times. We have all been making big, uncomfortable changes in our daily lives these last few weeks, and we are also living history. While change itself is often uncomfortable, in times like this it is necessary; especially for the health and wellbeing of everyone. The cause for all of the changes, and the reason we are making history, is certainly unwelcome. The coronavirus which causes the illness COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the nation and all around the world. It has caused hardship and heartache, has made us evaluate and re-evaluate and is putting our will, fortitude and adaptability to the most critical test. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners continues to respond to County needs from our at-home-offices and by transitioning our Board meetings from our chambers to a virtual platform.
On March 18, 2020 we were the first public body in Michigan to host a virtual board meeting. Two weeks prior, we did not anticipate having to shift the meeting to a virtual platform, but we had been preparing for such an event in the years before. In 2017 the Board implemented a new software program-the Macomb County Agenda Management System (MCAMS)-facilitated through CivicClerk. MCAMS allows County departments to submit agenda items and requests virtually and seamlessly and for Commissioners to review and vote on all items electronically-even while at home during a Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order.
With MCAMS allowing for a continuity of operations, we also knew it was a necessity to still provide a platform for Commissioners, County Departments, and-most importantly-the public to speak. To allow for this aspect of the meeting we have been using Google Hangouts. With the click of a button from an electronic device or by calling into a specific number anyone who is interested in watching, listening to or participating in our virtual meetings is able to. Board of Commissioners’ meetings provide the only regular opportunity for the public to observe the County officials they elect in action, and to provide input at the meetings at which decisions that directly affect them are made. We are committed to always providing that public platform.
As with all public meetings, a certain etiquette is expected, respect being at the top of that list. For public comment we have asked those seeking to participate to do so in an orderly fashion. Those who call-in are asked to speak first and those who join virtually to type their name into the Google chat, those names are then called in the order in which they were received, following those who spoke over the phone.
Since Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the Executive Order allowing public bodies to meet virtually we have held two meetings, both of which had more than five times the “public” audience we have in our in-person meetings. It is remarkable to see a growing interest in local government, and we understand the reason why.
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners is here for you in this time crisis, and will still be here for those we have been elected to represent once this crisis has passed. It is my hope that you will continue to engage with us then too. Your voice matters, always.
To view our agendas and learn how to access our meetings visit https://macombcomi.civicclerk.com/.
Guardians of the Budget
Located squarely at the intersection of Macomb County Government and the Public is the Board of Commissioners.
The Board’s duties include ordinance, resolution and policy-making. But perhaps the biggest - and most daunting - duty is appropriating funds and setting the budget for all Macomb County departments. Commissioners take this task, as well as reviewing all county contracts, seriously.
Board of Commissioners’ meetings provide the only regular opportunity for the public to observe the county officials they elect in action, and to provide input at the meetings at which decisions that directly affect them are made.
Macomb County budgets have been adopted by the County’s legislative body for nearly two centuries. These public, elected bodies have long been charged with diligently overseeing and allocating taxpayer dollars. The current Board of Commissioners took on that mantle of leadership when they took their oath of office in early 2019. This oath made them the current Guardians of the Budget.
Being charged with the fiscal oversight of the County budget means the Board is committed to protecting taxpayer dollars and ensuring they are allocated efficiently and where needed. Additionally, being responsible Guardians of the Budget means:
Continuous engagement on the approved County budget
- All contracts above $35,000 and budget amendments must be approved by the Board
- The Board reviews quarterly financial reports
Thorough review of proposed budget
- At least 13 public meetings during “budget season”
- Open, public dialogues with each department to learn about their priorities, needs and how the budget can support that in a fiscally responsible manner
Value public and employee input
- Opportunities to provide input and ask questions at public meetings are available
- Two opportunities for the public to speak at each meeting
- Individuals can access past meetings on YouTube and follow-up with questions and comments on the Board’s social media pages
- Commissioners and staff can regularly be accessed via email and phone calls
Ensuring a Future
- The Board’s recent adoption of fund balance and capital improvement policies, allow for long-term, fiscally responsible oversight
- Fund Balance Policy: Minimum level of unrestricted general fund balance shall be maintained at a range of 15-20 percent; this range is in line with national government accounting standards.
- Capital Improvement Policy: funding approach that stabilizes what monies are available for capital projects, enabling the County to better plan for project implementation and completion.
- Members of the Board also serve as representatives on the boards which oversee retiree health care and overall retiree benefit investments
Advocating for Vulnerable Populations
- The Board of Commissioners supports the Martha T. Berry Medical Facility through a Joint Operating Agreement with the Human Services Board, allow it to be a county facility so it can best serve a vulnerable population
- The Board appoints fitting members of the public to serve on Boards and Commissions that oversee policies that directly affect varying vulnerable populations
- Community Mental Health Services Board
- Veterans Affairs Commission
- Human Services Board
- Substance Use Disorder Oversight Policy Board
As the Board of Commissioners embarks on its 2020 Budget Review season, commissioners remain committed to ensuring a transparent process, with the ultimate outcome being one that best serves the citizens. The budget review process continues to evolve and this year we again are committed to improving our process. Our continuous strive for improvement will allow us to further close the gap of our growing diverse population but open avenues for even greater transparency.