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Posted on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

First order of 2013 business: Washtenaw County Commissioners elect Yousef Rabhi as chairman

By Amy Biolchini

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.


Commissioner Yousef Rabhi takes his seat at the head of the board table after he was elected chairman Wednesday night.

Amy Biolchini | Ann

In announcing his selection of Rabhi as the next chairman to the rest of the board Wednesday night, Smith took a playful tone:

"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.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

Yousef Rabhi may be the youngest Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Washtenaw County history. Like Jeff Irwin, he was elected as a commissioner as a student at U-M, however I believe Jeff Irwin assumed the chairmanship after more years on the Board than Mr. Rabhi has under his belt. It was Conan Smith who was one of his primary backers when Yousef narrowly won the Democratic Party primary in 2010 to eventually win the seat vacated by Jeff Irwin. Commissioner Rabhi has attended numerous political functions during his first term and kept in contact with his constituency. The Board's vote reflects the respect he has garnered among his peers during his first term.

It's hard to hide from facts

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

It appears that Dan Smith (R) from Northfield Township got his nose in a snit, perhaps he thought the board might choose him as their Chair? Not after his controversial proclamations from last year that were overturned by the board at their first meeting of this year. He looks more like the odd man out.

Joel A. Levitt

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.


James Toy

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

Thanks to the outgoing Commissioners and welcome, new Commissioners. Congratulations to new Chair Yousef Rabhi and thanks to outgoing Chair Conan Smith. Conan, you might send some tenderizer to the House of Representatives in DC-- Good wishes to all for the New Year!


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Nice to see Conan gone...couldn't stand that guy as the voice of the Commission.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Why was Conan Smith always up front giving the interviews and appearing in every article as the prime communicator then?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

There is no "voice of the Commission," the board speaks through its votes.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Wow! I see we have a balance of political party denominations representing the county. Evidentially, political diversity is not one of our strong suits. Go figure!