6-member county board seems to be functioning well

With a year of service now behind the six-member Marquette County Board, it appears the panel is functioning efficiently despite its smaller size.

After a reapportionment panel in 2011 reduced the number of districts and commissioners from nine to six, many people -including reapportionment opponents- wondered how well the board would operate given fewer members, larger commissioner districts and an even number of members.

A subsequent election in 2012 replaced some board members and the year 2013 marked the first sessions of the smaller panel, which included commissioners Bruce Heikkila, Deborah Pellow, Gregory Seppanen, Steven Pence, Paul Arsenault and Gerald Corkin.

At its January 2013 organizational session, the panel elected Corkin, a longtime board member, to be the panel chairman and Pellow -who had previously been the board chairwoman- to serve as vice chairwoman.

As events unfolded throughout the year, the board appeared to work more efficiently under its smaller size configuration. Meetings were not only reduced greatly in length, but also in number.

County administrative staff was to use the extra time to better organize and prepare materials for the board before each meeting.

Instead of meeting four times a month, the board cut the number of sessions in half.

At its 2014 organizational meeting, held last Tuesday, the panel decided to stick to the two monthly meetings schedule, retained Corkin and Pellow as the panel’s top leadership and kept the same committee assignments for commissioners for the coming year. All of these things seem to indicate the members of the board like the way things are functioning.

Certainly, the commissioners are likely experiencing at least some difficulties serving constituents given the larger district sizes. But there have been no complaints at meetings from the public being served.

The six-member panel managed to make it through its first year with only one motion that we saw failing because of a tie vote. The even number of commissioners hasn’t been a problem.

There also didn’t appear to be any great difficulties or in-fighting among the board members, which should help give the board an edge in trying to move county government ahead effectively as it attempts to negotiate some difficult issues in the coming months.

Though we think the board still needs to improve its transparency with the public – by avoiding waiting until meetings to disclose agenda topics or provide background materials, and working harder to inform the public about what is going on behind the scenes, including issues as they are being developed – the smaller panel’s first year appears to have been a success.

We know the reapportionment changes were difficult for some people to accept, but so far, the results seem to have been beneficial and productive in operations of the county board.