You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Dec 4, 2009 : 12:19 p.m.

Bob Guenzel to retire as Washtenaw County's top administrator

By Ryan J. Stanton

Washtenaw County Administrator Bob Guenzel is retiring after nearly four decades of service to the county, leaving the board of commissioners with another major challenge ahead after closing a $30 million budget deficit.

"There's real big shoes to fill," said Board Chairman Rolland Sizemore Jr., who plans to talk with commissioners at a special meeting Monday about plans for replacing Guenzel when he leaves in May.


Bob Guenzel

"I'm going to listen to how they want to proceed and probably we'll start in the middle of next month," he said. "We will just do our best to pick out who's going to be our new county administrator in the future, and I feel strongly we have a board that can do that."

Guenzel, the county's top administrator, informed the board of his intention to retire on Thursday, the day after the board approved a two-year budget for 2010-11. He told the county's department heads at a special meeting this morning he would retire effective May 14.

"I've been here 37 years, 22 as the attorney and the last 15 as the administrator," Guenzel said. "There's never a good time to separate from something you love. It's been part of me and who I am, and the relationships I've had here have been fantastic. But it's primarily to have an opportunity to have another career that's not quite as stressful and demanding, that allows me more flexibility in my schedule to spend more time with my family."

Guenzel said options he's considering include continuing to teach courses at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy, leadership coaching, consulting and other special initiatives within the community.

Guenzel, head of an organization with more than 1,300 employees and a general fund budget of nearly $100 million, said he made a personal commitment this year to finish his work on the county budget before thinking about retirement.

"I think the county's in good hands," he said. "If our predications and estimations for 2010 turn out to be correct, I think that'll give the board and administration some breathing room."

Commissioners said Guenzel's departure marks the beginning of a new era of leadership.

"It's not often that a community gets to have leadership that is that long-lived and so well respected," said Commissioner Jeff Irwin, D-11th District, who has worked alongside Guenzel for the last 10 years.

"Bob Guenzel has been a gift the community," Irwin said. "He has been a tremendous county administrator for a lot of reasons that have to do with both style and substance. It's, of course, bad for the county to lose him but all good things must come to an end, and Bob's given a lot of great service to the county."

Guenzel, a longtime community leader both within and beyond the walls of county government, has been rumored to retire for some time. Now at the age of 68, he said it's a decision that makes sense for him.

Guenzel was hired as Washtenaw County's corporation counsel in 1973 after serving as assistant city attorney for Ann Arbor. Prior to that, he was an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board from 1967-1969. He was appointed county administrator by the board of commissioners in 1994.

"I'm very fond of Bob," said County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum. "I think that he's done a whole lot for the county and the community over the years. I'm sure that we will be able to move forward without him, but I'm sorry that he's doing this. At the same time, he may have reached the point in his life where this is the appropriate step."

By many accounts, Guenzel's background as a labor attorney served the county well over the years as the county's largely unionized work force has had a mostly positive relationship with administration.

"I think Bob has done an excellent job for the county over the years," Sizemore said. "He just pulled us out of a $30 million budget deficit. He started up some good things in town hall meetings with employees and, in my opinion, that's what helped us more than anything else."

When it came time this year to talk about closing the budget gap, Guenzel was able to bring labor groups to the table and negotiate agreements that included workers giving up promised raises. Ultimately, the budget was balanced without draconian cuts to services.

"Bob, over the course of really many, many years, set us up for success in tough times by promoting a positive, productive labor-management relationship," Irwin said. "One of the things I always like to say about Bob is he really taught me about the value of process - not just working on things for the right outcome but going about it in the right way. He wants to make sure everybody is involved and feels their input is valued."

Guenzel has been given credit for leading the effort to build the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. He also was instrumental in developing the county's Blueprint to End Homelessness. He now co-chairs the Washtenaw Literacy Coalition, which is working to implement a Blueprint to End Illiteracy.

Guenzel currently serves as vice chairman of Ann Arbor SPARK, the area’s economic development agency. He also is a board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance and The Ark, a nonprofit concert venue.

County commissioners said the hiring of a new county administrator is the second most important responsibility they have, after adopting a balanced budget. Right now there's a strong indication commissioners may look within the organization to replace Guenzel.

"The board's going to have to grapple with this obviously," Irwin said. "We want to attract the best and brightest, but then again we have some really strong candidates within the organization. This is an important decision for us."

Sizemore said he plans to form a committee that will evaluate candidates and make a recommendation to the board of commissioners. He said there's currently no timetable, but the process should begin next month.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Tom Bletcher

Wed, Dec 9, 2009 : 5:34 p.m.

Bob must be close to the Senior County Employee...and, he will be missed...Board Chairman Sizemore should consider the opportunity that we now have to move to a Charter County Form of Government, with an Elected County Executive, and place that question on the August Election Ballot, so Charter Commissioners can be elected in November...Oakland, Wayne, and recently Macomb, surround us with good examples....


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:09 p.m.

Now can we get the rest of the county good ol boy network to follow suit???????

Donna Roth

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 10:46 p.m.

Bob is an exceptional man, whose heart is in synch with his brain. He has always had the employees as his foundation value. I was fortunate to work with Bob as Corporation Counsel and as Administrator. He is a gentle leader, good teacher, and smart administrator. His connections to other leaders in the county are of great value. I knew that the time for his retirement was getting closer. His absence will be felt by the entire county and commissioners. However, his legacy includes seeing the big picture, having foresight for the future, and his abiding concern for each employee and customer, while building a lasting cogent mission, values and strategies for all the the departments of this county. He is the best boss that I have ever worked for. More than most, he deserves leisure time for his other love, his family. I am very thankful to have learned so much from him and to be a part of his administration when I retired.

John Agno

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

As a certified executive and business coach specializing in leadership, I welcome Bob Guenzel into the leadership coaching fraternity (which a few other Sig Eps have evolved to) for their encore career.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 3:10 a.m.

Bye Bye...don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. Maybe now we can get someone up in there that has some balls and get this County on the straight and narrow. Politicians are serving too long in office and when they serve that long you know there is a problem.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 12:32 a.m.

What I want to know is how much is Mr. Guenzel's pension going to cost the taxpayer's of Washtenaw County? This is the same guy that bragged about some of the union's agreeing to not taking a "pay raise" this next contract!!! Whoop dee doo!! He's got health care for himself and his family till the day he dies unlike 90% of us in the private sector. I would not complain about this except my labor and sweat ( that is my taxes) pay for his "fat cat" health care and benefits. There needs to be term limits for serving in any capacity in government. He spent almost four decades in his job, give me a break.


Fri, Dec 4, 2009 : 9:26 p.m.

He's done a great job. It will be a difficult to find a replacement that can live up to his standards, knowledge,performance and dedication.