On Thursday evening, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously appointed and swore in Ann Arbor publicist Jen Eyer, previously Mlive Media Group director, to fill a vacant interim position on the board. Eyer, the vice president of a public affairs firm in Lansing, will now serve as the District 9 commissioner and Ann Arbor representative until January.

She will fill the spot left vacant by former Commissioner Conan Smith, who stepped down in August to seek another position with the county as the director of community and economic development. Before he stepped down, Smith’s interest in the position sparked some controversy from residents concerned that his role as commissioner posed a conflict of interest, given the board of commissioners’ role in selecting the director position. The board had 30 days from Smith’s resignation on Aug. 16 to appoint a county resident to the vacant seat, convening Thursday’s special meeting to review finalists selected from a pool of applicants.

“This is quite a talented group we have in front of us, and no matter who is selected, I hope to work with you all,” Commissioner Yousef Rabhi said at the outset of the meeting.  

Before selecting Eyer — who submitted a resume highlighting her experience in communication and journalism with MLive and Vanguard Public Affairs — the commissioners interviewed seven other candidates running for Smith’s position. The candidates included Bob King, former president of United Auto Workers; Charlotte Jameson, the government affairs director of the League of Conservation Voters; Dan Ezekiel, member of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission; Mike Henry, chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party; Jeremy Peters, the music publishing director for Ghostly, LLC; and Elizabeth Janovic, a Washtenaw County mediator. The applicants answered questions about their experience, highlighted current issues facing the commissioners and shared goals that could be accomplished in the three months the interim representative would serve on the board.

In her responses, Eyer focused on the county’s financial pitfalls and new mental health initiatives addressing inequality.

“By engaging stakeholders throughout the community, and even at the state level, the (mental health) program … seems to be a direct outgrowth of the work the board began with its strategic budget priorities,” she said.

Nearly every applicant also brought up the board’s months-long effort to appoint a permanent county administrator, as the position has not been filled since last February.

“The never-ending saga of county administrator hasn’t reflected well on board,” Ezekiel said.

Other issues included the dioxane plume in Ann Arbor, health and human service inequities and the spread of opioids in the county.  

Smith’s seat is also up for election in November, though his name still remains on the ballot. Eyer, along with residents Jeremy Peters, Jeffrey Hayner and Elizabeth Janovic, will all be included as write-ins for the Nov. 8 elections. The other applicants opted not to run in the election.

“Let the voters choose long-term, and put someone in there who doesn’t have a long-term interest,” King said. 

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