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Posted on Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Newest member of Washtenaw County board talks about role in looming budget decisions

By Ryan J. Stanton

Felicia Brabec was appointed this week to fill a vacant seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, representing the 7th District in Pittsfield Township.

She officially replaces Democrat Kristin Judge, who resigned from the county board to take a job with a nonprofit Internet security company.

Brabec, a 38-year-old psychologist and political newcomer, joins the board at a time when it's grappling with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, and deep cuts to various human services programs and agencies like Head Start and the Humane Society are being considered.


Felicia Brabec

Brabec admits it gives her goosebumps to think she'll be one of 11 voices making the final decision when the county board votes next month on a two-year budget for 2012 and 2013.

"The responsibility feels very daunting," she said. "I take it very seriously and I want to know as much as I can. Right now I'm focusing on the human service cuts and really looking at all of those, and seeing if there's anything that can be done to not cut them so much.

"I'm learning as much as I can about the real impacts of what the cuts mean," she added. "I'm just trying to ask as many questions as I can to find out answers."

Brabec was one of two candidates who sought the appointment, along with Christopher Nielsen. Both are Democrats and live in Pittsfield Township.

Brabec has a master's degree in clinical social work from Boston College and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.

She will serve temporarily until a special election is held May 8 to permanently fill the seat through the rest of 2012. The primary for that contest is scheduled for Feb. 28. So far, just one candidate — Republican Richard Conn — has filed to run for the seat.

Brabec said she intends to compete for the chance to fill out the rest of Judge's term through 2012, and she's doing so with Judge's support.

After the February primary and May election, she'd have to compete in another August primary and November election for the chance to continue serving another two-year term.

Judge praised Brabec.

"I think she's a very intelligent, caring person who is willing to dedicate time to the job like I did," Judge said, noting Brabec only works six to eight hours a week at her private practice. "So she can really put a lot of time into the role of commissioner."

After spending so many years pursuing her education, Brabec said she feels like a student by nature, and she's approaching the role of commissioner no differently.

He latest homework assignment: studying the county budget.

"I read the budget cover-to-cover once and I've revisited many areas of it several times," she said, adding she's now going to visit as many departments and agencies as she can.

The two-year budget proposed by the county's administration addresses a $17.5 million structural deficit in the general fund. The board aims to adopt a final budget on Nov. 16.

Recent board meetings have been emotional and sometimes contentious, including Thursday's working session where commissioners discussed having another provider take over the county's Head Start program. Cuts to human services also have been a hot topic.

Among the $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies, the proposed budget for 2012 and 2013 includes a $455,538 cut in human services funding — down from $1.46 million — for programs that address issues like homelessness, domestic violence and child abuse.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said earlier this week he understands the county faces financial troubles, but he called the proposed cuts concerning. He said he's in talks with county officials, stressing that both the city and county need to maintain human services funding.

"We look at that as a partnership that we've had with the county," he said. "We've been holding up our end of it, and we're going to be asking them to hold up their end."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

The county facing multiple-million deficit is an issue. But we need to fix the infrastructure before pleading for holding the deep cut towards Human Service Fund. "Coordinated funding" makes the fund going to outside agency "United Way" . Both government agency and private donation collector like "United Way" use expensive overhead. United Way uses over $2 million a year for staff, retirement plan, business losses, endowment. Human Service Fund goes there, what is the main benefits? Talk about saving hundred of office hours of individual agent, however, where does the saved money go? If this pilot program gets permanently adopted in 2 years, our taxpayers money goes pay high rise retirement plan for United Way especially from 2015-2020. Given that, what is the merit of us asking the county cancel cutting the Human Service Fund? can the money really reach the needy? or just keep stuck in the middle man or middle layer?

Chase Ingersoll

Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

I hope you interview her at regular intervals. A psychologists perspective on what goes on will be interesting.


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

Thanks very much for your service to our county and attempts to clean up the mess and promote visibility and honesty. Ignore Basic Bob, he doesn't get it and apparently thinks the other commissioners were and are doing a great job. They weren't and aren't and you did your best to change that. Best of luck in your new job and hope you can come back to local politics at some point in the future. Rick Olson needs to be replaced ('Invisible Rick').

Mr. Ed

Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

Kristin Judge thank you for your service and good luck on your future endeavor.

Kristin Judge

Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

@basic bob...once again Bob you are the first to criticize me in my service to the people of this great county. You have mentioned before that I was probably leaving because I could not get along with other commissioners. That could not be further from the truth. However, it is uninformed people like you who hide behind a fake cartoon and say hateful things online that are the reason many good people are staying out of politics. Bloggers like you are the newest poison in the political process. The appointment for my seat was an open process where the public was able to apply and be interview in a public meeting. I asked Dr. Brabec to consider applying. Many people were interested until they found out the 4 elections they would have to run in. Only a committed public servant would be willing to do that. Especially with people like you ready to criticize from behind a computer. The gentlemen who applied works full time in Lansing. To do this job well, someone needs more time than he would have. I already miss the great people who work at the county, my wonderful board friends and serving the people, but I won't miss reading the nasty comments by people like you!

Basic Bob

Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 11:24 a.m.

Her appointment is yet another back room deal in Pittsfield politics. Why the board allows the Pittsfield commissioners to hand-pick their successors in mid-term is puzzling to me. It seriously conflicts with our tradition of democracy. By next November she likely will have appeared on four ballots in the predominately Democratic township, and will have established herself as an incumbent in only twelve months. Time will tell whether Dr. Brabec makes an effective commissioner, but at least we have Kristin Judge's vicious attacks on fellow board members behind us.