By MADDY O’CALLAGHAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Allowing county commissioners to serve four-year rather than two-year terms would provide greater accountability and stability within local government, according to the Michigan Association of Counties, which is pushing for the Legislature to make the change.
Longer terms make more sense, as all other countywide elected officials serve four-year terms, said Director of Governmental Affairs Deena Bosworth.
Currently, Michigan is one of only five states with two-year terms.
Bosworth said the short terms prevent elected officials from growing in their experience and diverts their attention from government to their reelection campaign.
“[You learn] all the things you have to do and how to appropriate the money, but also how to be able to adjust or react to that after those budgets have been implemented and those policies have changed,” Bosworth said. “There is a level of expertise and a lot of learning that goes into running a local unit of government.”
Marilynn Bradstrom, who was recently appointed as vice-chair of the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, said people often underestimate how intense the position can be.
“It’s a time-consuming thing,” Bradstrom said. “People think it’s part-time, but it really isn’t. There are lots of phone calls and meetings. It’s not a regular schedule.”
Bradstrom, a county commissioner since 2013, has also found that two-year terms make it tougher for officials to grow and navigate in their positions.
“We have one new person who has been on for a year, and she’s just starting to get comfortable,” Bradstrom said. “She’s approaching her second year and is going to have to start thinking about campaigning. It just starts to become somewhat of a hindrance.”
She said she found continuity to be an important aspect of her time in local government, which motivated the Mecosta County Board of Commissioner’s decision to keep committee members the same for 2020. She said longer terms would encourage continuity by fostering stronger relations among elected officials and the community.
Currently, the House is considering a bill proposed by Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, to extend county commissioner terms from two years to four for the 2023 gubernatorial election cycle. Among the co-sponsors are Reps Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, Julie Calley, R-Portland, and Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville.
The bill passed in the Elections and Ethics Committee in September and has been stalled in the Ways and Means Committee since then.
Bosworth said the stalemate is caused by a disagreement about the election cycle for county commissioners.
Republicans support Bollin’s proposed gubernatorial election cycle, while Democrats and labor unions prefer the presidential election cycle because of greater greater voter turnout, she said.
But party politics shouldn’t matter as much as getting it passed, she said. “We don’t care what election cycle it’s on. We just think four-year terms are the right thing to do.”
Bradstrom, who said she is excited about the potential change, said two-year terms aren’t logical for local government and that the specifics of which election cycle they will be held shouldn’t prevent the legislation from passing.
“I just wish they could see the big picture,” Bradstrom said. “I really hope they reach a decision soon so that they can do something good for our state.”