Experience and Leadership For Michigan
Jeff speaking at an Ann Arbor Community Success workshop.
Idea’s matter. Experience matters. Information matters.
In 1995, I came to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan to study Political Science. I was not anticipating ever serving in elected office, but I was keenly interested in law, policy and how government works. For better or worse, I was born into a political family and I was consistently exposed to political discussion and activism. Some of my earlier memories involve handing out maps of Michigan at VFW halls and senior centers. The importance of helping people in need and making government work for the people made an impression on me at a very early age; and, I suppose I simply felt that political activism was normal and valuable.
I bounced around the Capitol as a toddler, and as a young adult I was exposed to the policy debates of the 1980’s. I was privileged to watch distinguished public servants like Lana Pollack duke it out with conservative ideologues like John Engler, who seemed intent on proving that government couldn’t do anything right and we should all give up on trying to make it work. In retrospect, it was a real gift to learn, at such an early age, that right there in Lansing there was an epic battle raging about the future direction of our state. Basically, I learned that the outcome of these struggles is important. It’s important for those veterans whom we met at the VFWs who relied on government-funded medical and other services. It’s important for those seniors I’d smile at in nursing homes who deserve quality care and dignified treatment. I learned that what happens in that chamber meant that somebody’s life would be better . . . or worse.
As a result, when I came to Ann Arbor I stayed involved in political activism. What started out as volunteering for various local and national campaigns eventually blossomed into a position in then Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith’s legislative office. After a short time there in 1998, I took a job with the League of Conservation Voters – engaging in political organizing for environmental protection. During that time, I noticed an open position on the County Board of Commissioners and an opportunity to utilize my campaign skills to bring more pro-environment and affordable housing policies to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Fortunately, I was successful and in 1999 I was elected to serve on the County Board of Commissioners. Quickly, we got to work on greening county operations and a successful land preservation initiative in 2002 (the Washtenaw County Natural Areas Preservation Program). Concurrently, the county’s affordable housing programs were expanded. I was delighted to find many colleagues on the Board who shared my goals and together we accomplished much over those years. For instance, I am very proud to have been part of improving our community response to homelessness with the Delonis Center and the county’s PORT team (the Project Outreach Team performs direct outreach to homeless individuals and families).
Subsequently, I had the honor of serving as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee from 2005-6 and as Chair of the Board of Commissioners from 2007-8. During that time, Washtenaw County Government led the way in indentifying cost-saving consolidations and collaborations with our local government partners. By combining staff in areas like human resources, information technology and community development, we were able to preserve or expand services while reducing overall costs.
Jeff at the groundbreaking of the new court in Pittsfield Township.
Recently, our local government budgets have been retracting. Unfortunately, as our budgets have been shrinking, so have the budgets of our citizens, our non-profits and our businesses. Predictably, as the need for county services increases, our financial capacity to meet those needs is similarly constrained. Just last November, we balanced our 2010-11 budgets despite facing a $30 million divide between anticipated costs and revenues. Sadly, we eliminated a couple of amazing programs1; but, for the most part we closed the budget deficit without reducing services to citizens. That accomplishment is largely due to our non-union and unionized county employees taking a reduction in compensation.
What I learned at the county was that Washtenaw County is quietly one of the best public organizations in the nation. We enjoyed great professional leadership, top-notch employees and a group of public servants committed to getting it right for the people of our county. I have always been proud to be a part of Washtenaw County Government; but now I’m hoping to utilize all of these experiences in state government.
Lansing is broken and I want to help fix it: I have a wealth of experience in local government after serving on the County Board for ten years; I have considerable policy experience in Lansing having worked in a legislative office and having advocated on behalf of environmental issues for many years; and, I understand the gravity and the importance of the decisions entrusted to me. I want to get it right and I need your help every step along the way.