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Macomb County

February 20, 2013

Flynn, right where he wants to be

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Board of Commissioners Chairman David Flynn addresses his fellow commissioners during a recent meeting. At 27, Flynn is the youngest chairman in county history.

MOUNT CLEMENS — At 27, assuming county Board of Commissioners Chairman David Flynn is using the position as a stepping-stone to the next political tier wouldn’t be outlandish.

But his colleagues say that is not the case.

Commissioner Fred Miller, a Democrat representing the 9th District, said a couple years ago he and other commissioners encouraged Flynn to run as a state representative out of his home city of Sterling Heights, but Flynn declined. He told Miller there was too much unfinished business at the county level.

“He’s well suited to do this job because he’s interested in doing this job specifically,” Miller said.

Flynn says he doesn’t think beyond two-year terms and declined to speculate on where he’ll be in five years.

“When people are elected to be temporary stakeholders in a public institution, they should view it that way,” Flynn said. “Run on an agenda and actually push to get something done to make progress.”

At his age, he has a long list of accomplishments beyond the board chairmanship to be proud of. At the top of the list are the reorganizing of the county under a new charter, for which he organized the 35,000 petition signatures required to have it placed on the ballot, and the state’s creation of a Regional Transit Authority, which he and other regional leaders lobbied Lansing for. He’s also served as chairman of the Education and Training Committee and co-chaired the Economic Development Committee.

Despite the impressive résumé, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said Flynn is still willing to learn from others.

“He’s willing to openly admit what he doesn’t know and how to resolve differences of opinion,” Hackel said.

Flynn’s enthusiasm for county government comes from a belief that it is ground zero, when it comes to serving citizens.

“County government is one of those things that goes under the radar, but it’s extremely important because that’s where people access the services,” Flynn said.

He was elected to the board in 2006 at 20 — still a sophomore at Michigan State University.

“It was difficult, but I was able to take summer classes,” Flynn said recently from his office on the ninth floor of the Macomb County Administration Building.

“Politics is in his blood,” said Miller, who knew Flynn’s parents.

Flynn’s father worked with former U.S. Rep. David Bonier, who served in the House of Representatives from 1997 to 2003.

“I always thought public service matters,” Flynn said. “You have the ability to work on important issues that actually impact people’s lives.”

Before running for commissioner, Flynn worked in the offices of both federal and state politicians and interned for the county’s Planning and Economic Development.

It was in those early days that he realized the need for a county executive position in Macomb. “Macomb County needed to have more political clout and an ability to message our assets throughout the region and throughout the state,” Flynn said.

In 2010, Flynn organized the collection of signatures required to place on the ballot the county charter, which created the county executive position and sliced in half the number of commissioners from 26 to 13. He was also supportive of the legislative side of the charter when it was sued two years later by the county executive’s office.

The commissioners passed an ordinance giving itself the authority to approve every dollar spent by the executive’s office. After Hackel vetoed the ordinance, the board overrode his veto. Hackel sued the commissioners, calling the ordinance an overreach but lost his argument in the appellate court. The day of the court’s decision, Flynn stood with then-board Chairwoman Kathy Vosburg during a press conference lauding the outcome.

“We also knew we needed a strong legislative branch with clear checks and balances,” Flynn said.

This year, Flynn has promised to mend the commissioners’ relationship with the county executive.

“I think we both found that, when we cooperate, we’re both able to get more done,” Flynn said.

Hackel said there isn’t much repairing needed.

“There isn’t much at all that we disagree about,” Hackel said. “There’s been a lot that we have done over the last two years yet very little discussion on what we agree on.”

One subject the two agree on is the importance of regionalism. Flynn was a member of Regional Partners Advocating Transit Here, a group of the region’s leaders who pushed the state Legislature to create a transit authority for Southeast Michigan. Hackel spoke in Lansing supporting the creation of an RTA.

“There’s not a place in the country or the world that is vibrant that does not have a robust transportation system that connects people to the places they work, schools they attend and the entertainment they enjoy,” Flynn said.

Flynn doesn’t see Macomb becoming an Oakland or Wayne County. Instead, he wants it to thrive in its role as the manufacturing hub of the region, exporting its goods to the world.

“This is where we design things and build things — cars, defense products — that go all the way around the world,” Flynn said.

With that, he recognizes the need for the county to be connected to Oakland and Wayne in more ways than roads and interstates.

The world, Flynn said, is interconnected, and it’s time that southeast Michigan does the same.

“I think, over time, that constructive cooperation has better results than being part of our own silos and not being able to interact with one another,” Flynn said. “That didn’t work. We need to try something new.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.