City Council unhappy with OPC interlocal agreement revisions

Council agrees to take a break from interlocal agreement discussions until 2013

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 12, 2012

ROCHESTER — City Council members recently made it clear that many of them would not support some major changes to the Older Persons’ Commission interlocal agreement that have been passed by a majority of the OPC Governing Board.

A subcommittee of the OPC Governing Board, which included members from each of the communities, worked on the changes for about five months, according to Rochester Hills City Council member Michael Webber, who serves as vice chairman of the OPC board. The revisions would need to be passed by all three communities included in the interlocal agreement — Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township — in order to take effect.

“The interlocal (agreement) is something that we all agree needs to be changed, but it’s difficult to get that achieved, so that’s kind of the next thing. The OPC Governing Board can make changes, but all three communities have to agree on it, and that’s going to be a work in progress,” said Rochester Mayor Pro Tem Stuart Bikson, who serves as one of Rochester’s representatives on the OPC board, along with resident Lucy Strand.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Cuthbertson and other council members weren’t shy about voicing their opinions about the proposed changes passed 6-2 by the OPC board. Bikson and Strand voted against the changes.

Webber was one of the six board members who voted to approve the changes.

“The thought was, on the Governing Board, was we want to present these changes to the three communities. … It wasn’t necessarily me saying, ‘I like everything in that document,’ but what it was, was we need to move this process forward and present this to the three communities,” he said.

While Cuthbertson said a handful of the proposed changes make sense — the ones that he characterizes as “housekeeping in nature” — he does not support three of the suggested changes, which are wholesale and material shifts in the way that the organization is governed and potentially funded.

The first major change under the revised agreement, according to Cuthbertson, is the fact that the board would be able to take action with a majority vote of the members present — rather than a majority of the entire board. The proposed agreement strikes out the line “a majority of the commission shall be necessary, present and voting for the commission to take any action.” Currently, five out of eight members on the OPC Governing Board have to be present to pass something, but with the removal of that line, Cuthbertson said only five people would be needed to have a quorum and then only a majority of the five — three people — would need to vote for something for it to pass.

“Changes here could affect a radically different way of seeking consensus between the three communities at the OPC board level. If three people were absent, three people could determine how the budget is passed. Mind you, one community has four votes, so I hope that people didn’t think that potential ramification through. I really hope that this isn’t something that was deliberately considered, because that would be a huge change and one that I could certainly never support,” Cuthbertson said, referring to how Rochester Hills has four members.

Among other changes, the OPC would still have to submit its budget to the three communities it serves, but those bodies would not need to approve the budget in order for the OPC to operate.

“It strikes the sentence ‘the governing bodies of each of the parties hereto shall review and either approve as presented, or as modified, an identical budget, no later than Oct. 1 of each year,’ so with a pen stroke, our review no longer happens,” Cuthbertson said.

Finally, the OPC board removed language that says the OPC can levy up to one quarter of a mill on all taxable property in the townships and cities, essentially removing the cap on the operating millage.

“If we remove this from the OPC interlocal agreement, there would no longer be any contractual cap as to what the millage rate would be, so presumably, whenever the other millage expires in the other communities and we agree to put it on the ballot and change our general fund millage to this, they could ask for half a mill or they could ask for more,” Cuthbertson said.

While Cuthbertson said there are definitely opportunities to improve the interlocal agreement, he said these three changes are not what he, and many others on the Rochester City Council, had in mind.

“If this is the governing body’s ideas on those three points of improving the agreement, I would like to say unequivocally and publically, I will never vote for those three changes,” he said.

Bikson noted that he and Strand were the only two members on the governing board to vote against the motion to pass the amendments.

“I was opposed to it, and I was pretty certain my sense of the council was the council would not approve of it. There was very clear deliberation on all these things in discussion,” he said.

Council member Cathy Daldin said she would “never, ever, ever support giving away Rochester’s right to have a say in the budget.”

In defense of the OPC, Council member Kim Russell — who’s mother, Marye Miller, serves as the OPC executive director — said the OPC has offered to give a presentation on the matter, which she said the Rochester City Council denied. She said it’s critical that the OPC and its member communities have a good interlocal agreement that everyone can live by.

“Possibly this document is not it,” she admitted. “The interlocal agreement is the catalyst that helps us understand our roles and where we’re at.”

The council agreed to take a break on discussing the OPC interlocal agreement until the beginning of 2013, when the OPC Governing Board will likely have two new representatives from Oakland Township. During the Aug. 7 election, Terry Gonser defeated incumbent Oakland Township Supervisor Joan Fogler, who currently sits on the OPC Governing Board. Gonser will take Fogler’s place on the board, along with a resident of his choice — a change about which many Rochester City Council members are optimistic.

“I say we just sort of shelve this until after the election and wait until a new board gets seated, assuming there is going to be changes, of course, because that atmosphere is so toxic now. Every time I turn around, there is something more, like this. I think we just need to step back. We approved the budget, that’s fine, but let’s just let this go for a month or two, and let this election happen and pick this back up after the first of the year,” Council member Ben Giovanelli said.

Cuthbertson agreed, saying he thinks taking a break from the conversation and having a few agendas without OPC on it would be a “very good thing.”

“(It will) let people calm down and come back to this with new eyes and some new voices,” he said.

During the Sept. 6 OPC Governing Board meeting, Webber said he proposed that each of the communities let the OPC Governing Board know the revisions they don’t agree with, so the three communities could then look at the rest of the document and try to adopt as many of the changes that all three communities can agree on as possible.

“I don’t want the work that has been done on the interlocal (agreement) to go to waste. There are a lot of technical changes in the document that I think all the communities can agree on,” he said.