Elected officials and local residents celebrated the swearing in of the new class of county commissioners at the Washtenaw County Administration Building on Tuesday night. Four incumbents and four new members, all Democrats, officially assumed their roles on the Board of Commissioners, the first time the body has been entirely Democratic in its history. The county has the most Democratic representatives in the state of Michigan.
Lawrence Kestenbaum, county clerk and register of deeds for Washtenaw County, led the swearing-in ceremony. In a nod to the "blue wave" that swept the Board, Kestenbaum discussed the importance of considering the entire scope of beliefs within the county, which he said was the “most wonderful constituency anyone can have.”
“The people around this table do not represent the whole political scope of this county,” Kestenbaum said. “Reach out to those who you do not agree with and take them into consideration.”
District 9 commissioner Katie Scott, a nurse at the University of Michigan and vice president of the Michigan Nurses Association, is new to the Board. She thanked the people who supported her throughout her first race.
“I am really honored to be here,” she said. “It was stepping out on a shaky limb for me to decide to run for this office, but I am so excited … My family was extremely supportive of this work as well as the Nurses Association.”
Many of the commissioners echoed the sentiment. District 2 commissioner Sue Shink, who replaced Democrat Michelle Deatrick, emphasized her commitment to serving residents unconditionally as an elected official.
“You deserve honesty and integrity,” Shink said. “I say that whether you are in my county or not, voted for me or not, or are a part of my political party or not.”
District 7 commissioner Andy LaBarre was elected to the Board again but relinquished his position as Chair, a role that District 8 commissioner Jason Morgan will take on in his second term on the body.
Morgan said the commissioners are in a unique position to improve the lives of citizens.
“We have a unique ability to help people and improve people’s lives like no other part of government can,” Morgan said.
LaBarre emphasized the function of local government in people’s day-to-day lives and said he wanted to be a part of that process.
“It is my privilege and honor to work as the commissioner for District 7,” he said. “When you have a government shutting down on the federal level over a policy consideration, it lets you know the importance of municipal and county government.”
Serving the community was a common theme among the commissioner's’ remarks. District 6 commissioner Ricky Jefferson, an incumbent, said he intended to be a voice for all of his constituents.
“I’m here to make sure that those children can have the resources that they need when they grow up: public health, mental health and education system,” Jefferson said. “We are here to represent you with anything.”
Kestenbaum said the commissioners’ powers were unparalleled in Washtenaw County.
“As the County Board of Commissioners, no one else can do what you have the authority to do,” he said, adding “Not all the important decisions are made in Washington. Some are made in rooms like right here.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, the forum opened to questions from constituents in attendance.
Superior Township resident Jan Piert said she attended the event because meeting with commissioners personally was imperative.
“I came here tonight because my friend said we needed to come to see who our county commissioners are so we could put a face to the names and to be able to hold them accountable,” Piert said.