Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

January 12, 2014

Editorial: Lathrop owes voters more than 'I changed my mind'

When he was running for the Grand Traverse County board in 2012, commissioner Dan Lathrop openly acknowledged he lives with and co-owns a house with county Drain Commissioner Kevin McElyea.

And in an endorsement interview with the Record-Eagle, Lathrop was quick to give assurances that he would recuse himself from votes that dealt directly with McElyea's job or his compensation to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

It was pretty standard stuff. Those who hold elective office are expected to step aside when the issue involves their uncle or business partner. The public needs to know decisions are being based - theoretically, anyway - on the public interest and not familial or personal ties.

Lathrop had given similar assurances to voters and others who wondered if his relationship with McElyea would influence the way he would do his job.

So it was disappointing - and news - when Lathrop voted with a 4-3 commission committee majority to approve McElyea's plan to restore his authority to handle storm water control duties in some county villages and townships.

This matters because McElyea''s job status has been the subject of some ham-handed board politics in recent years. In 2012, at the urging of some well-connected area developers who didn't like the way McElyea - an elected official - was enforcing state soil erosion and storm water rules, the county board voted to strip him of those duties and slashed his salary to reflect his reduced work load.

The board handed the job of monitoring storm water laws to county building inspectors, who are ill-equipped to do the work. It was pure power politics and smelled to high heaven.

So it mattered when McElyea suggested that he - along with the county prosecutor's office - begin doing the job again for Fife Lake Township and Fife Lake Village. It was that proposal the board committee, including Lathrop, approved 4-3.

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