As part of the I Know MI Numbers initiative, Michigan State University Extension educators, specialists and faculty are helping our cities and towns succeed. MSUE has been doing this kind of work for years. In fact, we have been providing training for newly elected county commissioners since 1968. The MSUE State and Local Government Area of Expertise Team (now known as the Public Policy Work Group) in the Greening Michigan Institute most recently continued the tradition by providing six workshops in Big Rapids, Grayling, Kalamazoo, Novi, Frankenmuth and Escanaba in November and December last year.
Why is it important that we train county commissioners?
From maintaining records of property ownership to issuing marriage licenses to collecting and distributing taxes to providing a functional and effective justice system, county government is responsible for handling a diverse array of functions for Michigan residents. Every two years, the citizens elect county commissioners to develop policy and provide financial oversight to all aspects of county government. The role of a county commissioner is well defined by statute; however, understanding the relationships between the county board and other elected officials and department heads is very complicated. We are training commissioners so that they understand their roles within the complex system of county government.
There are 687 county commissioners in the state. Two hundred twenty-seven commissioners attended the workshops, which highlighted key aspects of county government as well as the roles and responsibilities of county boards of commissioners.
Evaluations showed that the training improved commissioners’ understanding of county finance and the structure and function of county government, and that they are now more aware of resources available to them as commissioners. Commissioners who attended previous trainings stated that this most recent team and curriculum update was the best they had seen.
The team spent several months updating the curriculum and used a variety of teaching methods to present the material including lectures, group work and polling the audience throughout the lessons with the Turning Point audience response system.
Team members who worked on the program include John Amrhein, Nicole Bradshaw, Claire Layman, Julie Pioch and Mark Skidmore. Follow-up trainings on effective leadership and budget and finance also included Eric Scorsone and Howard Wetters.
After more than 40 years, we continue to connect with county commissioners, and they continue to depend on us for training of new commissioners.