November 18, 2018

Our View: Commissioners: Set aside differences and show results

Posted

We are quickly approaching the two-year mark since the horrific fire that deprived the county of some of its history and consumed the courthouse. There have been countless meetings, contracts and promises, and yet we have nothing to show for it.

We believe it is time to set our differences aside and make decisions to replace what was lost May 4, 2016.

A lot has occurred since the fire, but a common denominator in all of it is that with every step forward, there have been two steps back. It didn’t start like that. In fact, in the beginning things appeared to be progressing well.

In less than a month, the county was discussing salvaging documents, rebuilding and providing temporary offices for employees.

However, one of the first setbacks occurred when ServPro, the emergency restoration company contracted by the insurance company, delivered temporary office units equipped with electric rather than the planned natural gas heating, requiring additional time and expense to upgrade the service.

The temporary units are just an example of the stumbling blocks the county, its residents and commissioners have faced during this process. There were also delays in demolition and wasted meetings with architects for plans that were later scrapped by the commissioners. This cost the county approximately $60,000 out of its general fund because the commissioners did not read their contract, and added many days to the reconstruction process.

The county’s insurance company stepped up to the plate and backed the county’s policy, shoring up all the costs involved with employee displacement after the fire, the demolition and a sizeable amount that was intended to pay for the reconstruction.

However, it appears that these delays have managed to burn through a good portion of the approximately $2.1 million in coverage, plus an additional $700,000 in riders for things like document restoration. According to a recent report from the county treasurer, there is about $1 million remaining on the county’s books from the insurance settlement.

Now, commissioners are in danger of burning through the remaining money if they let the process drag on. We estimate the commissioners have met at least once a month since the fire to discuss the rebuilding process. If that is true, those meetings alone have cost the county more than $5,400 in per diems alone.

To speed things along, it was a smart move to consult with a professional in the industry, something that should have been done at the beginning of the process. However, the perceived conflict of interest in hiring the chairwoman’s husband for that role should have raised a few red flags. Because of his hiring, Chairwoman Olsen has to abstain from many votes — rightfully so — but this often results in stalemates between the remaining commissioners.

But what’s done is done, and from all appearances, no wrongs have been done as Will Olsen carries out his job. In fact, in terms of expenses and setbacks in the reconstruction process, Mr. Olsen has been what some might call a bargain. According to county documents, Mr. Olsen has cost the county little more than his travel expenses. In fact, in one instance he saved the county money by billing only $81.60 and using air miles to pay for the majority of his estimated $600 flight.

The only setback occurring regarding Mr. Olsen is others’ attitude toward him. It’s good to question matters of conflict of interest, but when no harm has been done, there is a time to set it aside and let the work continue.

On the other hand, his wife, LaNita Olsen, has the ability to cause setbacks because, while she may be abstaining from votes, her input in comments and discussions about the process may cause a legitimate conflict of interest. While not required legally, we feel her abstention should extend to discussion.

The fact that ground has not even been broken on rebuilding the courthouse is absolutely shameful, especially since the county is home to many skilled builders with the ability to raise massive structures in a short time.

It is time for the fighting and bickering to stop. The time for dreaming is done. The commissioners need to make a decision, put a plan in motion and serve the residents of the county. And they need to make sound fiscal decisions with the taxpayers’ dollars.

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Benjamin Franklin

This week’s opinion piece (January 25, 2018) pushes a narrative that this current group of commissioners are incompetent. It is so far from the truth. However I do believe that most people are entitled to their own opinion (like the Herald), even when it is wrong (like the Herald). That said the commissioners are trying real hard to make the best of a bad situation (courthouse burn & build). Now I bet the author of this piece got “some” of the raw data from the Treasurer’s office but got most of the politics from the left side trailer office.

So here is the rest of the truth…. After the Courthouse burned down in May 2016 (this was also an election year), the first “group” of commissioners appointed a committee of the “gang of 18” of Mio’s best and brightest brains. It was a great attempt at group consensus, but it was too big and too late in the building season to break ground…. and 12 people too many to make any meaningful decisions so late in the year.

[Oh that $60,000 spent by the WTA, that occurred before LaNita was even a commissioner. Yet at the tale end (yes, its a tale) of this opinion piece, it implies that LaNita was involved with this $60,000 WTA transaction and host of other bad decisions. The tale is all about political character assassination on the chair for decisions made before her term.]

Continuing on… our humble county has the 2016 election with three new commissioners elected. And swiftly moving on to a 2017 New Year the commissioners have new set of ideas and challenges for the courthouse build. I will say at this time it’s literally “back to the drawing board” cliché.

With the new set of commissioners and Brandy Wright as the chair (she did previously fill-in for Bob Boerner’s seat), there came a series of meetings where the public was graciously invited to attend, to ask questions, to pick the commissioners brain and even make their input known. This was and is “open govt” at its best.

As chair, Brandy should be commended for moving the Board of Commissioners in a direction to get the county involved. Really involved. One of the “supposed controversial decisions” was to get Will Olsen involved in the courthouse build. It should be noted that it was Brandy Wright who made the recommendation to bring in Will Olsen as a RFP consultant. The commissioners all weighed in and Will was brought on board to get things going.

Let me say right here that the decision to bring in Will was made public with a series of very public meetings. Which until recently no one in the county made a stink about. Not the commissioners (who voted for Will), not the public nor the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC). Even the MAC lawyer saw no laws broken. There is no conflict of interest. So then there is no there, there…..

[Will Olsen, who is married to Commissioner LaNita Olsen, works for Bechtel Construction. He was working on the project on his own time, taking no fees for his services, and was not working on the project on behalf of Bechtel. However, the board did pay for Olsen’s flight from Texas to attend the meeting. As written by Nick Powers from the Herald April 20 editions.]

[2nd Note: recently certain people (including the Herald) have tried to push for the “conflict of interest” narrative regarding Will Olsen and LaNita Olsen, husband and wife. These loud mouths were never at any of these early meetings to get the full story. So with only a half a story to go by, they conveniently filled it in with misguided quotes. But I digress.]

In April 2017, Brandy resigned as chair for a job that was offered to her by her good friend, the prosecuting attorney. This is where LaNita Olsen became the chair (she certainly didn’t ask for this hot seat, the chair). Nonetheless LaNita was voted in as the chair and as such, was able to continue Brandy’s good work and move the Courthouse build forward into a positive direction.

Yet somehow this week’s opinion piece from the Herald saw issue with picking Will as the point man for the Courthouse build. In the article it just had to mention LaNita and Will Olsen by name. As if to deliberately deny her any chance of getting reelected. I also think the Herald should look into its journalistic standards as it forgets there are other players (i.e. politicians) who are trying desperately to negatively tear apart our county.

Recently there have been allegations regarding some instances of nepotism and cronyism. I pray that it is not happening because if it is, then this would explain the recent attempts to besmirch the chair’s reputation. Perhaps the paper should investigate that or better yet, the many years of ambulance mismanagement. Again this way before LaNita was elected commissioner.

About Will Olsen: he is a Navy veteran where he was involved in the nuclear industry. Honorably discharged.

About LaNita Olsen: she is a Navy veteran who was also involved in the nuclear industry. Also honorable discharge.

It seems that certain people in the Oscoda County govt (and maybe the Herald) don’t like veterans. I believe that is the bottom line narrative… their hatred for veterans. This, then is my opinion, and it is correct one.

Saturday, January 27 | Report this
William Olsen

While I appreciate the unknown “author(s)” of this article opinions, it would have served the community further if the article would have stated where we are at currently instead of the shortcomings of the past. With being said, where are we at in this rebuild process? As voted by the Board of Commissioners (B.O.C.) and published in the January 23, 2018 synopsis of B.O.C Minutes there will be a “Special B.O.C. meeting held on February 6th at 6 pm where the B.O.C. will have the opportunity to vote on the Basic Schematic Design of the new facility and make any final changes. This is the last major hurdle in the rebuild process as it will establish the basic outline and size of each department and where they will be located in the new facility. That being said, what it will not address is “hot button” topics like windows, interior or exterior design as those are all matters of opinions and not legal requirements or important to the intended function of the building which is serving the community.

Over this next week, I will be reaching out to each department again to make sure the space provided to their department meets the legal requirements for that departments space and that it will serve the community as intended.

I would like to thank the following departments for not interjecting “me, my or I” “wants” into the discussions and providing the requested and necessary information about the applicable departments space requirements:

• Mr. Guthrie – Equalization

• Mr. Wakeley – Housing

• Mr. Welser – Veteran’s Affairs

• Mr. Kauffman – Information Technology

• Mrs. Hudson – Department of Corrections

• Mr. Kendall – Treasurer

In addition I would also like to thank Sheriff Grace for providing guidance on security and emergency considerations.

To Mr. Franklin, while I appreciate the defense in your rebuttal to the author(s) please contact me as the community could use your successful editorial and publishing skills to regularly post updates on what will be a new page on the county website aimed at informing the public on updates to the rebuild process.

As always and as published since April 2017, I am available for any questions or concerns at rebuild.committee@oscodacountymi.com

William Olsen

Monday, January 29 | Report this
M Washington

Enjoyed reading all entries on the opinion page. However, I take issue with Ben Franklin's last statement about veteran haters.

Also have concern with Mr. Olsen's authority to invite Mr. Franklin to be editor of new web page on county website. If, in fact this is real who gave Mr. Olsen permission to do so, was under the impression that Mr. Olsen was a contract manager for new build, not a working employee of the county that can make this type of statement. If it is true, I believe the commissioners put a hiring freeze on during January meeting, bottom line would you not think that a position like this should be posted.

Monday, February 12 | Report this

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