After Contentious Process, County Commission Finalizes Road Commission Appointment

Andrew Trzaska | May 11, 2011

Muskegon Heights firefighter Terry Sabo will be Muskegon’s new road commissioner, filling a vacancy created by the retirement of long-time commissioner Gary Conrad in January.

This comes after a several-month long process full of votes and confusion among county board members, a long route that has left commissioners left and right asking to re-examine the board’s regulations.

Previously the commission voted to appoint Eric Rothoff as road commissioner, but the move was questioned for process reasons in April and was eventually overturned.

Rothoff was approved by a board amendment, not by the recommendation by the board chairperson as the county board’s bylaws require.

Even before the questioned approval and disapproval of Rothoff last month, several questions arose on the board about how the board could appoint new commissioners.

Tuesday’s 9-2 vote in favor of Sabo was followed by commissioners Plummer, Engle, Jager and Snider all looking to examine the board’s rules on appointing commissioners before the next road commissioner’s term expires next year.

The History

At one point on March, Rothoff was the only applicant for the job, but board chairman Ken Mahoney moved to have current at-large commissioner John DeWolf’s position reclassified to fill the job.

Mahoney noted at the time that Rothoff’s appointment would leave the southern half of the county underrepresented and he raised questions about whether Rothoff met the residency requirements for the position.

At that time 2nd district commissioner Alan Jager challenged the DeWolf placement, arguing that Rothoff’s application was valid and that he was the only candidate to have followed the proper application procedure.

After the overturn of Rothoff’s appointment in April, a new search for the open road commission seat began, and multiple people were interviewed for the job.

Terry Sabo earned the recommendation of the interview committee, and that recommendation was delivered by chairman Mahoney to the full board for Tuesday’s vote.

Rothoff has been vocal about his failed appointment, recently submitting a letter to local media his views on the way the appointment was handled.

The process to appoint Sabo took numerous full board meetings over four months to complete.  It involved many failed motions and even votes deemed by legal counsel to be invalid.

Sometimes motions were made while other motions were being debated. This often left those voting on the matter visibly and audibly confused on what they were voting on.

At Tuesday’s meeting alone, multiple commissioners had to check with the county clerk or board chairman to figure out exactly what they were voting on at the time.

Tuesday’s Vote

When the final vote on Sabo’s appointment was reached, several board members voted no for different reasons.

District 11 commissioner Bob Scolnik said during the meeting that he voted against the appointment of Sabo because he felt the original applicant was not given fair consideration.

“I [voted] no; not the individuals, but the process.”

Jager initially motioned to table the appointment vote today saying that members of the commission, did not have enough time to get to know the candidates to make an informed vote.

“I was excluded from the process.”

Commissioners Scott Plummer and Marvin Engle countered Jager’s statements, saying that the interviews of the candidates were open for public audience.

Jager said that delaying the vote two weeks would allow commissioners more time to make sure Sabo would effectively oversee the $14.3 million per year budget over the next 6 years.

“You can’t look at $86 million [over six years] and think it’s nothing.”

In a prepared statement, Jager explained his high interest in the situation.

He noted the district that his district was unique because it included all three county road districts, had numerous country roads, plus township roads he represented needed attention.

Jager urged the yet-to-be-named Sabo to attend township council meetings to hear their needs and represent the taxpayers that fund the county’s budget.

“The most important thing is they go to the township board meetings… the county is owned by the people.”
Commissioner Plummer noted that despite the board’s internal conflicts, all candidates in the recent round of interviews were qualified for the job.

“We had lots of good applicants, this was very tough… they were all good picks.”

The county will notify other candidates for the job that they will not receive the appointment.

No timeline was set at Tuesday’s meetings for addressing the procedural questions and confusion board members encountered over the past several months.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst