Cass County ushers in a new decade and its first administrator search in 20 years with a new Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Niles. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Cass County ushers in a new decade and its first administrator search in 20 years with a new Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Niles. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Niles commissioner leads Cass board into new decade

Published 10:03am Friday, January 8, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Cass County ushers in a new decade and its first administrator search in 20 years with a new Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Niles.

Ziliak, who served as Milton Township clerk for eight years before entering county politics, is halfway through his fourth two-year term and just finished his seventh year in 2009.

Thursday night in a 9-6 secret vote Ziliak deposed another Bob, six-year Dowagiac Chairman Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township.

The two men shook hands after the meeting.

“I thank everyone for having confidence in me and hope I can live up to your expectations,” Ziliak said.

Ziliak immediately named a 10-member search committee for County Administrator Terry Proctor’s replacement.

Proctor departs in March after 20 years as the second administrator.

“This committee will probably be the most important committee I appoint this year,” Ziliak said.

Ziliak offered all 15 commissioners an opportunity to serve on the panel.

Ziliak named David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, to chair the search committee, which convenes its first meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday to develop a timeline.

He polled each member and came up with Taylor, Cathy Goodenough, Bill Steele, Charlie Arnold, Carl Higley Sr., Vice Chairman Ron Francis, E. Clark Cobb, Johnie Rodebush, Debbie Johnson and himself.

Ziliak expects the committee to work closely with elected officials – Treasurer Linda Irwin, Clerk-Register Barb Runyon, Sheriff Joe Underwood and Prosecutor Victor Fitz – and accountant Becky Moore.
Ziliak told the Daily News he tapped Taylor because of his background as an attorney and legal knowledge regarding contracts.

Francis got the nod as committee vice chairman for his business background.

Ziliak, who retired from Dexter Axle in Elkhart, Ind., as a warehouse supervisor, believes it takes three terms to become acclimated enough to aspire to a leadership position.

At the final 2009 meeting Dec. 17 Ziliak distributed campaign literature announcing his intention to seek vice chairman.

Francis, R-Cassopolis, retained the vice chairmanship over Debbie Johnson, D-Niles, in a 9-6 vote.

Voting for Francis were independent Ed Goodman and Republicans Wagel, Goodenough, Gordon Bickel, Arnold, Higley, Francis, Dixie Ann File and Ziliak.

Johnson’s supporters also included Democrats Bill Steele, Taylor, Cobb, Minnie Warren and Rodebush.

Bickel offered a short speech in support of Wagel’s credentials: “We have issues coming before us such as a new administrator-controller, possible renovation of the historic (1899) courthouse” and 2010 is an election and census year.

“In the past five years I have been on this board, I have attended 118 meetings out of 121. I think we have done well under the leadership of Bob Wagel, therefore I would like to nominate Bob Wagel for chairman to lead us again in this eventful time.

“Bob has made non-partisan appointments for our board of 15 members. No appointments have been biased or with any thought of antagonism. Our 15-member board has always done what we thought to be the best for all of Cass County,” said Bickel, R-Porter Township.

“Under his leadership, we purchased property at Curtis Lake and traded it to DNR (state Department of Natural Resources) for sole ownership of Dodd Park” on Dowagiac Creek in Pokagon Township.

“A great trade in my opinion. We consolidated Road Commission property into the parks. He is a retired teacher of 31 years and a licensed professional counselor. He serves on the MAC (Michigan Association of Counties) board and its environmental and regulatory committee.”

Wagel chairs the county Board of Public Works and serves on the Head Start and tri-county Michigan Works! board, Bickel lobbied.

“He has been a commissioner for 15 years and oversees 50+ departments and over 350 employees.”

File, R-Cassopolis, nominated Ziliak and Francis.

Rodebush, D-Niles, put Johnson’s name in contention.

County Clerk-Register Barb Runyon conducted the secret ballot allowed only for selection of chairman.

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