Public shows support for elected road commission

REED CITY — Community members spoke in favor of maintaining an elected road commission at a public hearing with the Osceola County Board of Commissioners (OCBOC) on Nov. 19.

The board of commissioners is considering whether to continue with an elected road commission or return to an appointed one.

At a meeting in August, OCBOC member Jim Custer told the board with the complaints they have been hearing from their constituents, they may need to "let the people decide" if they want to keep an elected road commission or go back to an appointed one.

At the public hearing, Morris Langworthy, Jr., of Rose Lake Township, said he was on the board of commissioners in 1996 when they went from appointed road commissioners to elected and it was deliberated in depth at that time.

"Now, if you have a complaint, you file it with the road commission and they are accountable," Langley said. "Don't take away that accountability by making it an appointed position again."

Commissioners are elected for two years. Road commission appointments are typically a six-year position, which would make members more autonomous than ever, he explained.

"If you appoint them, you don't become accountable, they become autonomous," he said. "Leave it to the vote of the people and let them decide who they want in those positions."

Langley said if commissioners want the road commission to react to the citizenry, they should go to the meetings and speak for their constituents.

David Brickey, of Evart Township, told the board he has lived in the area since 1982, and the roads are "the worst they have ever been." Those complaints need to be addressed by the road commission, he said.

"I personally want the road commission to answer directly to me as a voter," Brickey said. "You should have to answer to the people you represent, and stand for election every cycle. You should have to face them and explain your decisions."

Sherman Township Supervisor David Eggle addressed the board, saying, "On behalf of our township board, we urge you to leave the election of the road commission with the people. Selection by the board of commissioners says you know better than the people."

Eggle told the board Sherman Township has a road committee that is part of the township organizational structure, whose responsibility is to meet with the road commission to develop options for road maintenance. Road commission representatives meet with the road committee to review options before any decisions are made by the township board of trustees regarding roads.

"We have used a road committee to deal with our road maintenance issues for years," he said. "They have been the lead to develop options for road maintenance including overlays, chip and seal, gravel, brine and anything else dealing with road maintenance. Road commission representatives have always attended meetings with the road committee when requested."

Addressing the crowd, OCBOC member Timothy Michell said he has met with townships regularly and has heard a lot of complaints about the road commission. The biggest thing he picked up on was a lack of communication between the townships and the road commission, he said.

During the process of talking to the road commission, he has learned that there are good reasons for most of the things that happen, he said, and he believes they are all working for the same goal, and that is better roads.

"Through all this, we as a board decided to consider the option of putting this on the ballot to let the people decide if they want us to appoint a new road commission board," Michell said.

Osceola County Road Commission vice chair Alan Gingrich said he understands people have complaints and he would love to meet with them to address those complaints and explain how the road commission works. He suggested those in attendance come to the road commission meeting in December.

Gingrich told the board he has been visiting with all the townships within the county to get their input on the issue of whether the road commission should be appointed or elected and has found the majority of those he spoke with were against appointed road commissioners.

"I've been around to 13 of the 16 townships so far and nobody has said appointed," Gingrich said. "Two have said they are not sure. I have spoken to hundreds of people and have had only one say he wanted appointed."

"The township road committee is the perfect system for townships to address road issues," he added.

Gingrich has attended several board of commissioners meetings recently to speak on behalf of the road commission. He said he has asked county commissioners to attend road commission meetings to address the complaints they receive from the community, adding the road commission has not been hearing from the townships and if they don't know about the problems, they can't take care of them.

"You can have all the public hearings you want on being appointed or elected, but if the appointed guy doesn't know about the problems any more than the elected guy, you're going to have the same problem." he said at a previous meeting.

The board will host another public hearing on the topic of returning to appointed road commissioners at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 3.