Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 8, 2013

Editorial: Leelanau proving political agenda is what counts

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Step by step, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners is isolating itself — and with it the county’s 21,000 residents and businesses — from regional planning and business development services, all for the sake of an extreme political ideology.

The latest move being weighed by the board, apparently at the urging of Commissioner Melinda Lautner, is to withdraw from the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, ostensibly over concerns that the COG doesn’t spend taxpayer money wisely enough.

Lautner was apparently shocked — shocked — to find out that the COG has in the past given at least one employee a bonus, that it provides cell phones to employees and — gasp — even cars to do Council of Governments business.

The county’s stake? Leelanau pays a whopping $5,000 a year (from its $11 million general fund budget) in dues to the COG.

Like moves earlier this year to dissolve the county’s Economic Development Corporation and reject a partnership with the Traverse Bay Area Economic Development Corporation — which worked to find ways to stimulate job growth — seeking to dissolve ties with the COG is way out of proportion to its alleged sins.

And it’s further proof that the Leelanau board is more interested in furthering its own political agenda than in what’s good for county taxpayers.

County business leaders — already distressed by the Economic Development escapade — say the Council of Governments aids start-up businesses, provides technical and growth assistance for existing businesses, and helps the unemployed find jobs through the Michigan Works program.

The COG is also a way for the county to access federal funds for infrastructure development — like harbors or road or other improvements.

If the county withdraws from the COG, will the board find — and provide — alternate ways to help new start-ups or offer technical assistance for county-based firms looking to expand? What about a new firm that wants advice on how to use social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook? Do they just have to find it — and pay for it — themselves? Will the board help those actively seeking work land a job? Can it provide the kind of database Michigan Works maintains to help job seekers find work?

Of course not.

More and more, it’s obvious this board doesn’t care about the real challenges faced by real people seeking to make a living and improve their lives. What matters to them is the small-government political agenda they share and a load of hubris.

Since when are Lautner and other commissioners experts on how agencies like the Council of Governments do business? Do they really know if it’s cost-effective to provide cell phones for employees? Do they really know if providing cars or paying for every mile an employee drives on the job saves the most money?

No, they don’t. They simply want to impose their political views on everyone else, whether it makes sense or is best for the wider community or not.

Commissioner Will Bunek asks “When you are hearing employees at the COG are getting bonuses and cell phones and have cars, (you ask), is the money being spent wisely?”

He’s right. So why isn’t that the question? Why isn’t the county board, instead of threatening to withdraw from the COG, asking for an audit (the COG says it’s audited all the time) or a defense of the COG’s business practices so it can share that information with taxpayers and other COG counties? Do cellphones make sense? Do cars make sense? Demand that the COG prove its reasoning on a business basis.

That’s what happens in the real world.

Instead, Leelanau wants to pick up its marbles and go home — with no thought of consequences to the people they ostensibly represent. This is government by ego; they know better than everyone else, and no one can tell them differently.

County voters may not have been fully aware of the agenda of those they elected to run their county. They are now.