First order of 2013 business: Washtenaw County Commissioners elect Yousef Rabhi as chairman
In its first meeting of the new 2013-14 term Wednesday evening, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners elected Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, to take the helm of the body in an 8-1 vote.
Rabhi, 24, is beginning his second term on the board and will take the reins of the body from former chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor.
Amy Biolchini | Ann Arbor.com
"As commissioner of the ninth district, the strongest, largest, most handsome, most prosperous district in Washtenaw County — and the most educated; and as the wisest in the county — we seek leadership that is kind, just, caring; the kind of leadership that can help us all as individuals to see it as a group; the kind of leadership that can keep our tempers even and spirits high, it is my great honor to nominate as the chair of the Washtenaw County Commission, Mr. Yousef Rabhi," Smith said.
No other commissioners were nominated for the position. After the board swiftly voted Rabhi in to the chairman's seat, Smith presented Rabhi with a meat tenderizer in lieu of a gavel.
"Having been through this as your chair over the last two years, I felt that a normal wooden gavel was insufficient for the leadership of this body, so I provided Chairman Rabhi with a meat tenderizer; however it doesn't seem to bang the wooden post as well," Smith said.
Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, was the objecting vote to Rabhi's appointment and publicly explained why he voted against Rabhi's appointment at the end of the meeting.
The county has a tradition of well representing all voices on the county board and to alternate the chairman position from an Ann Arbor commissioner to a commissioner from other county municipalities, Dan Smith said.
"We didn't do that this year, and that is especially troubling when Ann Arbor declined proportionally to the rest of the county," Dan Smith said, speaking of the number of decreased seats on the board allocated to Ann Arbor districts. "To have again an Ann Arbor chair is much more difficult to see the benefit to the rural areas."
The Board of Commissioners, downsized to nine from its previous size of 11, welcomed two new faces to its ranks as Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum swore in the commissioners: The newcomers are Andy LaBarre, D-Ann Arbor, and Kent Martinez-Kratz, D-Chelsea.
The board enters 2013 without three longstanding commissioners: Wesley Prater, D-York Township; Barbara Levin Bergman, D-Ann Arbor and Leah Gunn, D-Ann Arbor. Additionally, Rob Turner, R-Chelsea, was not re-elected to the board after one term.
After some discussion, the board also adopted updated governing rules, according to a number of adjustments proposed by Rabhi.
The most contentious of the changes was an amendment from Conan Smith that passed by a 5-4 vote to require commissioners to vote on an item, effectively removing a former provision that allowed commissioners to abstain from voting.
Commissioner LaBarre; Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti; Alicia Ping, R-Saline; and Dan Smith voted against the amendment.
Dan Smith said he liked the opportunity to abstain from votes that he felt were mostly symbolic and inconsequential for the county board to address. He said he's abstained from voting three times over the past year.
Commissioner Ping was chosen as the vice chairwoman of the Board. The ways and means meeting will be presided over by Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, and LaBarre will be chairman of the county's working session meeting.
Under the new board rules that were adopted, there will not be vice chairman positions in the board's Ways and Means meeting or the working session.
The Board of Commissioners also set its working session agenda for 2013. The commissioners will discuss the impact of recently passed right-to-work legislation on the county. The meeting will be 6 p.m. Thursday in the board's chambers at the Washtenaw County Administration Building on North Main St. in Ann Arbor.