Courtesy of Chen Lyu.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday evening, Dec. 1 to discuss a possible vaccine requirement for Washtenaw County employees and the 2022-2025 budget

The first resolution they considered specified that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners would implement a policy establishing a vaccine requirement for county employees, withweekly testing offered for employees not yet fully vaccinated. This resolution was passed unanimously.

The Board began the meeting with comments from the public about concerns surrounding the vaccine requirement, during which many expressed opposition to the mandate. 

Commissioner Katie Scott, D-District 9, pushed back against vaccine hesitancy expressed by some during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying the vaccine is safe and officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I feel it’s very important to correct some of the misinformation that was said in this meeting,” Scott said. “The Pfizer vaccine is not an emergency use authorization. The Pfizer vaccine has full use — it is fully approved and full FDA approval. Very few people have the adverse effects of a vaccine.”

Expressing full support for the vaccine mandate, Commissioner Jason Morgan, D-District 8, questioned Deputy County Administrator Diana Heidt about the timeline for this policy.

Morgan said he believed the health and safety of all employees outweighs personal choice, but added he wanted to instate the policy only after good-faith negotiation with labor unions.

“I do believe this is for the health and safety of all of our employees and emphasize that if we do not have a requirement in place, we are taking away a choice for our employees who want to be safe,” Morgan said. “But do we have sufficient time to hold conversations with the labor (unions), or do we need to (bump) the deadlines back a bit?”

Heidt assured the Board that the timeline they were considering with this policy was reasonable and said negotiations with the relevant parties would be occurring into the new year, only after which will the mandate take effect. 

The commissioners also debated the 2022-25 budget, with an amendment motioned by Morgan to allocate funding for Barrier Busters, a social services program dedicated to helping Washtenaw County residents. Morgan expressed his appreciation for the Barrier Busters program. 

He proposed allocating $150,000 from the Board of Commissioners to a Full Time Equivalent employee to better oversee the program. Morgan also suggested increasing the Washtenaw County funding by $75,000.

“The Barrier Busters directly supports residents throughout the county and significantly supports our county equity goals, specifically supporting economically disadvantaged families, African-American residents and Latinx communities,” Morgan said. 

Most commissioners echoed Morgan’s support for Barrier Busters but disagreed on implementation details. Commissioner Caroline Sanders, D-District 4, considered this budget amendment unnecessary and suggested that the Board could alternatively consider hiring college student interns. 

“We could offer opportunities for one or two fellowships or internship opportunities for our area college students that would allow them a real-life view into the work that they are trying to get and at the same time assist us,” Sanders said.

Scott said she was worried the proposed FTE position’s salary would not be adequate for the cost of living in Washtenaw County, and that the Board would be “asking somebody to run a Barrier Busters program who will need to use Barrier Busters.” 

Scott proceeded with her own amendment, which added the $75,000 Washtenaw County contribution, as mentioned in Morgan’s amendment, without the added full-time equivalent position. Scott’s amendment to the 2022-25 quadrennial budget was adopted with unanimous consent while Morgan’s amendment was rejected 5-3. 

Daily News Contributor Chen Lyu can be reached at lyuch@umich.edu.