May 26, 2005, 3:14 pm
From the Clerk-Register: More letters to my staff.
Monday, May 9:
On Friday, April 29, just over a week ago, Washtenaw County held its
annual Employee Recognition Breakfast. Among those honored were
Sherry Deeds of Court Services for 25 years of service, and Linda
Clark, of the Deeds office, for 20 years of service. Congratulations
During the event, [Deputy County Administrator] Frank Cambria spoke for
all of us when he praised the many honorees for their dedication, for the
institutional memory they make possible, and for the positive
organizational culture each of them has helped to create in our county
This dedication and longevity make Washtenaw County very different
from most other workplaces.
Fifteen years ago, I came out of graduate school into the 1990
recession. I ended up working for several months on the loading dock
at the Lord & Taylor department store in Briarwood Mall. When I
wasn't unloading trucks, I did a lot of cleaning and vacuuming and
emptying trash bins around the store.
I think Lord & Taylor is one of the more enlightened retail
operations around, and working there taught me a lot about customer
service. But one incident from my time working there came to mind
during that recognition breakfast.
It was a small retirement party for a woman who had worked at Lord &
Taylor for years — in the dress department, I think. The store had
been there for ten years, and thousands of people had worked there,
but remarkably, it was the very first time anyone had retired. No
one else had ever kept working there long enough.
I think that kind of turnover is a lot more typical of American
workplaces than the long dedication we have seen in the County. And
it's not because our jobs here are easy. We work with the public
every day. We face and overcome challenges day after day.
The difference, perhaps, is that what we do here is critically
important for this community and for every individual whose life
touches Washtenaw County. Lord & Taylor's Briarwood store is gone now,
and its space has been gutted and completely redone twice since I
worked there. But Washtenaw County is here to stay.
We had our first consolidated school board election last Tuesday, and
all things considered, it went well. The voter turnout was well
above the average of turnout that school board elections have drawn
for the last several years. Many thanks to everyone who went beyond
their ordinary work (and workload) to make the election a success.
The Board of Canvassers is working right now on certifying the
Our Court Services office is coping this morning with the changeover
from the old Fulcrum computer system to the new eNACT system. The
new system will be more intuitive for our customers and occasional
users, but it may take some getting used to for those who were
accustomed to Fulcrum. The people who use this system are likely to
be even more stressed than usual, so please be especially kind and
tolerant with them.
Let's have a great week!
Monday, May 23:
The Onion (which gleefully dubs itself "America's Finest News
reported recently that, as a follow-up to the successful 50
State Quarters program, the U.S. Mint will now issue a commemorative
penny for each of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States.
The plan is to issue five new county pennies every year for the next
629 years, starting with the penny for Kent County, Delaware.
Washtenaw County is singled out for
"I hope they get the old stone water tower just right," Ypsilanti, MI
resident Gina Dalton said. "It's the most well-known landmark in
Washtenaw County, so it's definitely what they should use."
While Fore [U.S. Mint director] agreed that Ypsilanti's historic
water tower-completed in 1890, boasting an 85-foot-tall base made of
Joliet limestone, and standing at the important intersection of Route
17 and West Cross Street-is a good suggestion, she cautioned
Washtenaw County residents that their penny is scheduled for release
"We're encouraging counties, especially those beyond the first 50 or
so, to think creatively to find a truly unique representative icon
for their penny," Fore said. "Water towers-along with mountains,
covered bridges, and lighthouses-will be among the first images to
get snapped up. We'll need to see some shoe factories and cell-phone
It's all a joke, of course, but it raises the question of what could
possibly serve as an image or symbol of our diverse and many-faceted
county. We don't have an instantly recognizable county courthouse
any longer to serve as a unifying piece of architecture. No doubt
people in various parts of the county would dispute whether the
Ypsilanti water tower, UM's Burton Tower, or the Chelsea clock tower
would be the best symbol of the entire county. Maybe the artistic
zigzag cell phone tower on US-23 at Domino's Farms?
About thirty years ago in another county, the commissioners decided
to create a new county seal. A committee was appointed, and did what
committees usually do. One member wanted the seal to reflect
manufacturing and industry. Another wanted the seal to recognize
farmers and agriculture. Still another wanted the seal to symbolize
higher education. A fourth member thought the seal should reference
So, they divided the seal into quadrants, and each member picked a
symbol: a mortar board for education, a corn plant for agriculture,
some cogs for industry, and the capitol dome for state government,
each poorly drawn and sealed up in a separate part of the circle. It
Here in Washtenaw County, the designer of our county
seal was considerably more clever. The oil lamp in the center
symbolizes education, and the two flames stand for UM and EMU. The border
around the lamp represents industry (the cog teeth on the upper half) and
agriculture (sheaves of wheat on the lower half). It's one composition
instead of four - but it's still a collection of nods to economic
interests rather than a unified symbol.
Perhaps this is inevitable given the geography. Counties in the
Midwest encompass arbitrary rectangles of territory, with no concern
for whether all the people living in each rectangle would have
anything in common - let alone the land and farms and rivers and
Cities and villages incorporate, annex territory, and structure
themselves by the vote of their people. But communities don't get to
choose which county to belong to, or which county offices to elect:
those decisions were made a century and a half ago, with only a few
details left to local choice.
We have much to be proud of in Washtenaw County; our people and
landscape and resources and economy are the envy of the whole state.
But the only clearly unifying element within our rectangle of
geography is the county government. Few people outside county
government and politics think of our county, or any county, as a
unified whole that "belongs" together. That realization should make
us humble in our service to our neighbors and constituents.
Let's have a great week!
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
May 2, 2005, 9:22 pm
Legalize Busking! Local musicians report that busking
(performing, usually music, on city sidewalks) has been interpreted as
illegal panhandling by Ann Arbor police. Local accordionist Shaun
at city council this evening to urge that this policy be
Among the links in that item, I was startled to see, was a strongly
East Lansing City Council resolution which resulted from my own
efforts to legalize street musicians almost a quarter century ago.
WHEREAS, it is the intent of the East Lansing City Council to
encourage within the central business district and other public places a
free exchange of social, cultural and entertainment opportunities between
members of the public,
NOW, THEREFOR [sic] it is resolved as follows:
1. Street musicians, mimes, dancers and theater groups shall be
permitted to perform for the public upon the public streets and within the
public places of the City of East Lansing, and shall be permitted to
solicit and accept voluntary contributions from members of the public who
wish to reward such activity.
2. For purposes of this Resolution street musicians are defined as
follows: a composer, conductor, or performer of vocal, instrumental, or
mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody, or harmony.
3. The above permitted activities shall not be considered "begging" in
connection with the City enforcement of its Disorderly Conduct Code being
section 9.102(5), nor shall they be considered a "trade or business" for
which a license might be required under Chapter 71 of the City Code.
4. Street musicians and other performers shall at all times comply
with all other provisions of the East Lansing City Code, specifically
including the City Noise Ordinance and Code provisions prohibiting the
obstruction of sidewalks and public passage.
Oddly enough, part of the argument in East Lansing at that time was
that street musicians were legal in Ann Arbor. Now the shoe appears to be
on the other foot. Contact your city council members to urge adoption
of something like the above.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
May 2, 2005, 8:35 pm
From the Clerk-Register: Latest letters to my staff.
Tuesday, April 26:
Last Friday and Saturday, I met with many of the county clerks from
around the state, to discuss election consolidation and other
issues. Apparently implementation of the new election law (changing
dates and responsibilities for school board elections) is being
actively resisted by some school districts around the state; a
lawsuit in Calhoun County led to a restraining order on election
preparations. Fortunately, that was overruled by the Court of
More controversy is expected when the local and county clerks submit
bills to the school districts for the school board elections. Faced
with charges of thousands of tangible dollars for election costs,
some school administrators may forget the considerable savings in
staff time and legal fees, and focus on the added cost of bringing
school elections into line with all other elections. Moreover,
almost every school district opted to continue annual elections,
declining to cut their election expenses in half or more by shifting
to odd year elections.
The amounts of money at issue, however, are not large in the context
of school or county budgets. You wouldn't think that this would
inspire a storm of litigation. But some schools don't like losing
control over the election process, or fear what larger voter turnouts
might bring to school elections. And the savings in legal fees mean
that the law firms which advise school districts are losing revenue.
I am hopeful that we in this county can overcome these challenges,
and continue to have a very positive and constructive relationship
with our local schools. Once the new election system has been in
place for a while, people will wonder why we did it any other way.
Enjoy the last of the snow, and have a great week!
Monday, May 2:
Tomorrow is Election Day for school boards throughout the county
(except South Lyon). This will be the first May school election
under the new election consolidation law.
From an election administration standpoint, this is a far more
demanding election situation than the one we faced in February. For
one thing, we have many more ballot styles to provide, listing the
candidates who are running in each school district. Because the
election is nonpartisan, the order of names must be rotated from one
precinct to the next. Voters accustomed to school precincts must be
notified that this election will be held in regular city and township
precincts. Many of those precincts are split by school district
boundaries, and so have to provide more than one different kind of
ballot for voters in the different areas.
And given that some of the local clerks declined to take on full
responsibility for the school election, we in the County Clerk's
election office are obliged to step into the township clerk's role on
the front lines of the election: to hire and pay election inspectors,
to arrange polling locations, to transport voting equipment, to
process absentee ballots, and so on.
Perhaps it was inevitable that something would go wrong. You may have
in Tuesday's paper that a polling place change notice intended for
about 600 voters in one Pittsfield Township precinct was mailed instead to
21,000 other Pittsfield voters. Fortunately, there was time to send a
correcting postcard, and (since it wasn't our mistake) we will not have to
pay for the erroneous mailing. I hope and expect it will turn out to be
one small ripple in an otherwise smooth election.
The media and most of the public pays little attention to the
Clerk-Register's office when things are going well. But we are not
alone in being taken for granted.
Consider the fabulous network of wells and reservoirs and pipes which
provide abundant clean, clear, soft water to our communities, and
carry away and treat our wastewater. We only read about it in the
newspaper when dioxane contamination forced the city to close the
Montgomery Street well. But the careful and dedicated work necessary
to develop and maintain this system must be enormous; hundreds of
people in Washtenaw County alone must spend their entire working
lives devoted to it. We rely on them without ever thinking of them.
And that's just one of many such vital and under-appreciated
functions. My father-in-law was a telephone engineer; he worked all
his days on an even more complex system. Fire fighters, mail
carriers, computer operators, farmers, and on and on, are all in the
same boat. And these folks are not just our friends and relatives:
they are also our customers, the same people we serve at our
counters, our courtrooms, and our polling places.
They may not take much notice of what we do, but each and every one
of them has some important role in our community, state, and
country. To treat each customer with courtesy and respect goes at
least a little way to express our appreciation.
Let's have an uneventful election, and a great week!
An excerpt from the Ann
Arbor News story mentioned above (since it will disappear shortly
from their web site):
Notices misinform voters
Thousands of registered voters in Pittsfield Township erroneously
received notices over the weekend that their polling place for the May 3
school elections had changed, Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds
Larry Kestenbaum said Monday....
The error, reported to Kestenbaum's office by several citizens Monday
morning, could further confuse voters who are adjusting to a new voting
system being implemented for the first time statewide with just a week
left before the election, he said.
"We've got a lot of damage control to do in terms of letting people know
where to go in a situation where there is already some confusion because
of the changes in election law," Kestenbaum said....
Kestenbaum said he ultimately takes responsibility for the error, but
indicated the county will contest the costs of the initial mailing because
the printer assured county staff that it had the correct lists of whom to
Liz Margolis, spokeswoman for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, said the
district was not aware of the problem Monday afternoon, yet was confident
the county would fix it in time to minimize any impact on the election.
She said she anticipated some problems implementing the new system.
"An amazing amount of coordination went into this between the schools and
the county, and I don't think it would be realistic to think there were
not going to be glitches the first time around," Margolis said.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
Note: HTML formatted email goes to my spam folder, where I
may miss it. For effective communication, please use plain text with no
Personal home page
Email Fraud Gallery
Complete Run (900k)
including some who moved away
This blog is overrated
Ann Arbor Is
Ann Arbor Machinations
The Stopped Clock
The Lynne Show
There Is No Law
The Hamtramck Star
Hillary & Steven Cherry
Past the College
A Later Date
Failure Is Impossible
Political State Report
Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall
Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Freedom To Tinker
Edward W. Felten
Delaware Law Office
Bag and Baggage
Alas, a Blog
No Longer the World's
Laurie D. T. Mann
The Poor Man
Yet Another Web Log
The Truth Laid Bear
N. Z. Bear
The Shifted Librarian
The Art of Peace
The Daily Kos
give love:get love
No Watermelons Allowed
City of Bits
Mind Over What Matters
Last post December 1, 2005
The Sardonic Subversive
Last post November 28, 2005
Last post October 18, 2005
Last post September 3, 2005
Last post August 31, 2005
Last post April 29, 2005
Last post February 15, 2005
Lies, and Statistics
Last post August 1, 2004
Odd Things in Pitt's
Last post September 15, 2003
Last post September 2, 2003
Last post August 5, 2003
Last post July 12, 2003
Reports from Imaginary Places
Last post January 6, 2003
Last post June 20, 2002