Archived Story

Road commission a textbook justification for transparency

Published 9:13pm Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Berrien County Board of Commissioners a week ago removed two of five road commissioners, Chuck Collins unanimously and Larry Merritt 9-4, temporarily appointing Russell Costanza of Sodus Township to maintain a quorum so business can be conducted. Louis Gibson resigned.

The shakeup marked a turning point in restoring decorum to the toxic culture of disrespect, poor communication and mistrust that enveloped the Berrien County Road Commission.

“The focus is not on the best interests of the entity,” Commissioner Mac Elliott, former corporate counsel, said, but “insulating individuals from the consequences of their conduct.’’

Turmoil festered from June until September awaiting Char Wenham’s investigation, a 23-page document the road commission summarized to gloss over findings warranting discipline or termination.

In that sense, as so often occurs in politics, the cover-up was worse than the crime.

Wenham wrote that while unprofessional and inappropriate behavior was prevalent, she didn’t uncover anything illegal in terms of harassment.

Road commissioners hastened their departure with a 3-2 power play toppling Robert Forker as chairman. Forker and James Daniel were spared because they were perceived to have sought the truth when others hid behind the word “confidential” stamped on the damning document.

It was awkward for county commissioners because while they appoint members, it operates autonomously.

To dispel any perception commissioners meant to micro-manage the road panel, Chairman Dave Pagel confined the four-hour exchange to broad issues.

“We expect them to carry out their responsibilities with diligence and professionalism, both individually and as a board, and to do so with proper order and procedures.”

That desire to steer clear of the “weeds” is why they resisted wading “into matters of judgment in handling specific concerns — however tempting that may be.”

To improve communication, Pagel named Commissioner Bryan Bixby of Berrien Springs as liaison — a position that should have already existed.

This editorial represents the views of the editorial board.

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