(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 26 2013)
Four Ferndale students were among those who visited the County Complex on April 22 to learn about County Government through many activities including a demonstration from County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and words of advice from elected officials like Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Youth in Government Day is a 33 year tradition.
Patterson spoke of how he first got into politics back in 1969. He had worked as an Assistant Prosecutor for three years, but was fired “because a lot of politics came into play,” he said. “I said ‘you can let me go but next year I’m going to run against you.’ And I did, and I beat him, that’s how I got into politics.”
Sitting on a discussion panel with Oakland County Board Chairperson Michael Gingell, Oakland County Chief Circuit Judge Nanci Grant, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Lisa Brown, Patterson explained that he enjoyed helping others and solving problems and disliked having to instruct staff to cut the budget. He also said that making good decisions was more important than following what a party wants, citing a recent disagreement with Governor Rick Snyder over auto insurance legislation.
Gingell talked about the challenges of working with others, and Judge Grant advised the young people to be well-rounded. “If you hang out with the nerds in school, you will be successful,” she said.
Brown explained that she “wanted to make sure that Michigan is a place that my kids could flourish.”
In addition to the Leaders Panel, students sat through a General Governance Committee meeting, where the main topics of discussion were a resolution expressing the desire that money collected from a voter-approved zoo tax be spent only on the zoo, and if the County should renew a contract with a company that has been live-streaming County meetings.
County Board Vice Chairman Jeff Matis gave a basic introduction of county government, explaining that Oakland County is like a big pizza that is cut into 21 slices, with a piece of pepperoni on each representing the commissioner. Basically there are 21 districts divided equally based on population, with approximately 60,000 people in each. Commissioners attend meetings and are involved in various committees, as well as being active in communicating with their constituents. Though it is technically a part-time job, those who spoke agreed that it is a lot of work. The salary is $32,000 a year.
Within the County Commission there are five committees: Finance, General Government, Public Service, Human Resources and Planning and Building.
The County Executive oversees the Executive Branch of County Government. The Courts make up the Judicial Branch, and the County Commission is the Legislative Branch.
Oakland County has 62 municipalities and 28 school districts, and a budget of $ 776.2 million. The students were stunned by the amount of money in the budget. Students also asked questions of their elected officials, including what they did in addition to politics.
County Commissioner Helaine Zack, who represents Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak Township, Huntington Woods and part of Oak Park in the 18th District, Zack works as someone who helps employees find support through personal issues.
Students also saw a demonstration by the Oakland County Sheriff, toured a courtroom and had lunch with their elected officials. They were accompanied by Ferndale High School Behavior Intervention Specialist Rooney Hall. To learn more about Oakland County, visit their website at http://www.oakgov.com.
Watch the video below to hear words of wisdom from County officials, a question posed by one of Ferndale’s own, and get a taste of what the students learned that day: