TT with HD: Mark Ouimet
HD: ... all kinds of people have successfully negotiated the no-handles design.
MO: For gosh sakes, if Conan [Smith] can do it, I can do it.
HD: Okay, let's get this thing going a little bit. So you mentioned Conan Smith just before we hopped onto the teeter totter. And a little bit before that you had said that he was a real delight to work with. But you know, I saw the tail end of a County Commission meeting on television recently--and the fact that I'm watching County Commission meetings on CTN gives you an idea of what my life is like ...
MO: ... yes, absolutely.
HD: And you know, Conan, as good-natured as he his, and as robust a sense of humor as he has, he was really layin' it on pretty thick, I'm not sure who the woman was who he was addressing, really. But it was at the tail end of the meeting and he was calling her out for 'orchestrating' this, that, and the other thing. The key word was 'orchestrate'.
HD: And I think it was because he had taken exception to her use of that word as applied to the Commission?
MO: Yes, I remember the incident. I think most of the Commissioners get to a point where they feel they have to respond. I've been a huge believer in never giving it personal, and never taking it personal. And I work real hard at approaching myself in government from that perspective. Because eventually, we've all got to work together. And whether you feel that you're right or not, you can't fire back. Or, I don't feel it's appropriate to fire back, because you don't want to damage an opportunity to eventually work together on this, or on whatever comes up next.
HD: I think the background of his comments was the police services issue?
HD: So maybe it would be worth rewinding and trying to figure out how we got in that situation, because I think there's a common misconception--at least in my mind there was--that the townships are being asked to do something new in paying for the Sheriff's patrols. Because they've always paid. There's always been a contractual relationship between County and the townships to provide Sheriff's patrols.
HD: So the issue is not really whether they should pay, it's how much they should pay?
MO: Yes, and what services would you get for that payment? For example, when you take on a series of deputies, does that mean you get SWAT team? Do you get investigation? Do you get K-9? Do you get marine patrol? All those core services that are available, that was part-and-parcel of the discussion. And I think we've now worked through it all, or the vast majority of it, with this subcommittee working on police issues. It has been a difficult path. But the positive side is this is the first time that the County has talked about the cost of government and the price of government. And that's healthy, because now we know what the differences are and how we can approach other parts of government with the same mindset and discipline, so that we're giving back as much value to the taxpayer.
HD: Tom Crawford, the CFO for the City of Ann Arbor was here last week, and one of the things that he talked about was performance metrics. That there needs to be an evaluation of services provide in terms of some kind of standard. And what he happened to be talking about specifically was a national standard for parks maintenance service, and saying, Let's compare the national standard to what we're currently delivering, and what it would cost to that standard. Is the language of 'performance metrics' something that has come into the parlance of County discussions as well?
MO: Yes. In fact, I believe I was one of the first to introduce it, when we went through our first budget process last year, to start benchmarking performance levels. That, too, couples with the idea of what it costs. A prime example, using the police: we were attempting to charge about $180,000 per deputy--that would be the price of it; the cost of it was $116,000. So now we're starting to figure out, this is what it costs, and this is how you price it. And we're trying to drive down the price of this piece of government to make sure that it's the best value back to the taxpayer.
HD: I'm not sure I quite follow the distinction you're drawing between price and cost.
MO: Well, if you put it into a retail sense, it's what you buy it for and what you sell it for, would be kind of an analogy. So what it costs you to produce the service, and then what you price it to give it to the townships.
HD: Okay, then is part of what has the townships upset is that they feel like the County is making too big a margin?
MO: What concerns the townships and this is more the western part of the townships, which I represent ...
HD: ... that includes Dexter and Chelsea, right?
MO: Correct. And what their strong feeling is, is that there are a lot of County services that they don't partake in. There are other parts of the county that would use more of these services. One of the few services that they look at and say, Gosh, we really rely on and need, is road patrol. So in the big picture, should we be keeping score, for example, of how many of our people who live in our township use the jail, use the social service network, use all of that? So what they're saying is, in fairness, we don't use that, so what we should be getting back is money for road patrol. Conversely, what people in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti might say is, Well, gosh, we pay for a police force already! We really don't get Sheriff's patrols inside the city, so why should we quote-unquote pay twice for police protection, when we only use Ann Arbor's system? This is why I come back to, Don't give it personal and don't take it personal. You can look at the exact same information and come out with a different answer. And that's okay, because you come at it differently.
HD: So you took a vote at that particular meeting, about two different proposals for contracts. I think you voted against the resolution?
MO: Yes, right.
HD: But it passed and at this point it seems like it's going to go forward.
MO: Yes, it will go forward.
HD: The lawsuit that's still pending, how is that going to play into things?
MO: That still plays into it from the standpoint that if Ypsi Township and Salem could overturn the decision that is made, that would be one way. But I would imagine what will happen, in probably mid-August, is they'll file a stay and not let the County start reducing road patrol.
HD: So are there any other issues in this election cycle at the County level besides police services?
MO: One would think that that's the only one!
HD: Surely there's important stuff that's being neglected in the conversation.
MO: Yeah, one of the things that we've launched a committee to look at our space needs in general, not just the jail. So we're looking at things differently and we're trying to cluster groups that need to respond, social agencies, for example. Another project that we're starting, which is one of my pet projects--and hopefully we can do a task force on it--is looking at the '09 budget. Because we at the County, with the pre-payment of taxes, are using that money to fund operations. Well, that pull-through eventually ends, and our revenue stream flattens about '09. So we're going to have to adjust the way we're spending in order to meet the flattening out of revenue streams.
HD: You're one of two Republicans now on the Commission. Does it really make a difference with regard to party affiliation as far as County issues go, or is it more of a suburban-urban kind of distinction?
MO: I think you're exactly right. I've never viewed it as a Republican-Democratic approach to government. It's been more, as you suggest, your area that you represent and how do you look at government from that perspective. My area, for example, is very rural, but has the city of Chelsea in it, and about 80% of Scio. So we don't have Ann Arbor, but we have of what would be Ann Arbor issues out in Scio.
HD: You mentioned earlier the tension between urban and rural with respect to what County services each uses. There's some amount of conversation going on about levying a county-wide millage to fund mass transit. How do you anticipate that would go over in your constituency?
MO: I think it would be a challenge to get a real positive response out of the out-county. Now certainly there are parts of the out-county that need that sort of bus services ...
HD: ... you're thinking specifically of what?
MO: I'm commenting here with very little knowledge, but I would think realistically there should be some sort of route all along Jackson Road. And I would think something from Chelsea, Dexter, to Ann Arbor, would be a natural. But off of those main areas, then the value decreases fairly quickly.
HD: If there were a bus that ran along Huron River Drive on out to Chelsea, that's something you could ride, right? It wouldn't be that far a walk out to Huron River Drive?
HD: Could you imagine yourself doing that to go take in a play out at Jeff Daniel's thing ...
MO: ... the Purple Rose. Yeah, oh sure. I mean, when I lived in the city of Ann Arbor, when I was on city council, I lived in Georgetown and I walked up to Packard and took the bus essentially every day to work. And that was fine.
HD: So Huron River Drive. It's easy for a guy like me to say, Let's close that down to automobile traffic! But that would have a direct negative impact on your life, I guess?
MO: Oh, yes!
HD: But at least once a year they do close it down for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, so how do you deal? How do you get out of your house, or do you just bunker down?
MO: Oh, you just figure it out. You know, a life-long Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County person, you figure out the routes.
HD: But seriously, though, during the race if you were at home and you said, Okay, I want to into Ann Arbor, there's no way to get there, is there?
MO: It'd be challenging.
HD: So what, do you go offroad??!!
MO: I just figure it out. It's the same thing finding places to park. You know, I hear about the parking problems. You know where you can put a car, you know how to get across town, you know how avoid these issues!
HD: So if you're driving into downtown Ann Arbor to see a movie or have dinner, what is your parking strategy? What's your Plan A?
MO: Plan A for parking? Because we own some property in the downtown State Street area, I just park there.
HD: Oh, so you've got it easy!
MO: Easier. I pay dearly for that because I'm paying property taxes, so they're not inexpensive parking spaces.
HD: Okay. Well, listen what else is on your mind today? It's a lovely morning, if the rain will stay away for long enough.
MO: Probably the biggest thing on my mind is how much this past nine months I've enjoyed my grandson.
HD: Oh yeah?
MO: I didn't know if I was ever going to get grandchildren. And now I've got this great little grandson, that is just absolutely perfect to be around. And it's very hard on me when I'm not with him for some portion of the day.
HD: So you're able to spend part of every day with him!
MO: Almost every single day I stop by to see him.
MO: Or I get to take him places.
HD: So have you been given like full babysitting privileges yet, where you're allowed to have him overnight?
MO: Oh, sure. But I never looked at it like babysitting. I look at it as a time for me to re-educate myself on how life was for my children. I was very fortunate. I had wonderful grandparents on both sides and they had a profound influence on me as a young kid and then, of course, as I got older. And so I hope that I can do as much for my grandson as my grandfather and grandmother did for me.
HD: Are you thinking of specific activities, like the classic teach-him-to-throw-a-ball, and teach-him-to-catch-a-pass ...
MO: ... that, too. But I'm looking at it from a much broader perspective. For example, I read to my grandson constantly. And I probably didn't do that much as a parent. I do it much more as a grandparent.
HD: So did your grandparents read to you?
HD: What kind of stuff do you read to him?
MO: Dr. Seuss is a big thing. And there's a whole new world of books for kids that I don't recall my children having. Like Clifford, The Big Red Dog, that's kind of a neat thing. But it's taking my grandson, going to the parks, taking my grandson and going out to a farm to see animals. It's been great.
HD: So you've never tried reading the County Board minutes to him?
MO: I did at first, but he started to spit up, which was a testament to the information, I believe!
HD: [laugh] So nine months old he is now? Is he walking yet?
MO: Just starting to crawl.
HD: That gives you an idea of what my experience with kids is.
MO: Oh, he's driving the car, he's on a special learner's permit!
HD: Well, listen I'd like to thank you for coming over to ride the teeter totter.
MO: Well, thank you! I've really enjoyed this. I'm just worried about how we dismount.
HD: Well, you have to wait until I let you off. And you're not saying that you enjoyed it, just to be polite, are you?
MO: No, I did. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've ridden one.