County board pays tribute to late Niles community leader

Published 12:52 pm Thursday, January 6, 2022

ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County Commissioners started the 2022 year with the election of a new vice-chairman and reports on coming meetings and action items.

Commissioners also paid tribute to longtime Niles community leader Ted Majerek who died Jan. 1. Majerek’s son, Mike, is a county commissioner representing the city of Niles. Tributes were paid to the elder Majerek by Commissioner Robert Harrison and County Board Chairman McKinley Elliott.

Harrison noted that Ted and Marie Majerek took him under their wing in 1980 when Harrison moved to Niles.

“They were great mentors and great community citizens,” he said. “He was a tremendous leader for Niles and southwest Michigan. I offer Mike my personal condolences.”

Elliott also said he had known the Majereks for years.

“Your dad helped me get textbooks I needed when I was in college,” he told Mike Majerek. “No matter how old they are, there’s never a good time to say goodbye to your parents. Eventually, the pain is replaced by fond memories. All of us are with you in thought and spirit.”

In organizational matters, commissioners elected Teri Freehling as the new county board vice-chairman. Freehling represents the Baroda area on the county board and previously served as board vice-chairman in 2019. She has been on the county board since 2015.

All other board appointments including Elliott continuing as board chairman and committee chairmen and members staying the same as last year were approved by the board.

Freehling’s nomination to the post was made by Ezra Scott who had served in the vice-chairman post since 2020. Scott represents the New Buffalo and Three Oaks area and announced last year that he is running for Congress for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Upton has not announced re-election plans yet and the boundaries of the current sixth congressional district remain up in the air as the state’s independent redistricting commission finishes up its work. Scott is one of several candidates announcing plans to run for the seat.

Commissioners approved their 2022 meeting dates with provisions for a number of night meetings. Specific dates and times for the night meetings will be approved at a later date. Commissioners said they felt it is important to get out to different parts of the county even though livestream capabilities might not always be available.

As has been the case for several months, the pandemic was also discussed at Thursday morning’s meeting: namely the possibility of federal vaccine mandates imposed on the county and other large employers.

Elliott noted that the vaccine mandates developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is scheduled to be the subject of a hearing today before the U.S. Supreme Court after multiple court challenges around the county. He said he is hoping for a fast-track decision by the high court to clear up the current confusion.

As a lawyer himself, he said he believes the Supreme Court will find the OSHA vaccine mandate to be unconstitutional as such a mandate should require Congressional action. He said the county is prepared to comply with the mandate if found to be constitutional but otherwise will not adopt it.

OSHA issued the mandate in early November with it set to be put in place this month. The mandate would require employers of more than 100 people have a vaccine plan in place by Dec. 6 and employees having to provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing and wear face coverings starting this month.

County Administrator Brian Dissette said he planned to meet with county labor representatives later on Thursday. If the mandate stands, it will affect the county’s more than 800 employees including county commissioners.

Dissette also reported on his plans for upcoming county board meetings. He said Berrien County Interim Health Officer Guy Miller and Berrien RESA Superintendent Eric Hoppstock will speak to the board next Thursday, Jan. 13 at their committee of the whole meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Dissette said Miller and Hoppstock will answer people’s lingering questions about quarantines, mandates, vaccines and masking.

“They will delve into those lingering questions and the schools’ and county’s role,” he said.

Dissette said commissioners should expect a report on county assets and facilities in the coming weeks. He said consultants are nearing completion of an assessment of county buildings, parks and other sites.

“I anticipate the board will go into a review of all properties in the next month at either the committee or board level,” he said.

He said consultant Jim Hettinger is nearing the end of his work on a new county strategic plan. He noted that at least three commissioners still have questions, which will be addressed individually or as a group.

“We have to the point that we’re willing to adopt the plan which is the roadmap to using the American Rescue Plan Act dollars,” he said. “There’s reason I’m going to be a little pushy, we need to have the funds allocated and spent by the end of 2024.”