WSW: Clashes And Partisan Division On The Kalamazoo County Board

Oct 29, 2018

Kalamazoo County Administration Building - file photo
Credit WMUK

Kalamazoo County’s Board of Commissioners is currently split 5-5 between Republicans and Democrats. That’s in part due to partisan divisions on the board.

The fall election results will determine which party has a majority of seats on the county board. Gordon Evans spoke with WMUK’s Sehvilla Mann and MLive Kalamazoo Reporter Malachi Barrett, who both regularly cover the county commission.

There are 11 seats on the board, but it currently has 10 members because of Kevin Worldeman’s resignation. The Democrat had represented the county’s second district, but he moved to a new home outside of the district. Republicans on the board refused to vote to appoint a replacement so the seat will remain vacant until January.

Democrats proposed appointing the lone candidate on the ballot in the district, Democrat Paul Haag, to finish the rest of Wordleman’s term. But Republicans said they wanted to know more about Wordelman’s resignation, and some commissioners said an evenly split board would encourage bipartisanship. But the first experience with a 5-5 board ended in a deadlock over filling the vacancy left by Wordleman’s resignation.

While much of the work before the county board is not partisan or ideological, there have been some issues that broke down along party lines. Mann says putting a senior millage on the August ballot, joining a lawsuit against opioid makers and creating a County ID all passed on a 6-5 vote that broke down along party lines.

The current two year term started with a strange alliance to appoint the chair and vice chair of the county board. Republican Dale Shugars and Democrat Stephanie Moore reached an agreement that allowed Shugars to serve as chair for a year with Moore as vice chair. The two swapped those positions for the second year of the term. Barrett says Moore became the first African-American chair of the county board without any votes from Democrats serving on the commission.

Mann says despite the agreement, Moore has consistently voted with the Democrats. But there have been some disagreements, including a shouting match between Moore and fellow Democrat Michael Seals in August. Barrett says it’s hard to see how those disputes have interfered with the operation of government. But he says the clash between Moore and Seals caused some people to come to the next county meeting and call for civility among commissioners.

The November election will determine which party holds the majority on the board. Mann says based on the last election, the race to keep an eye on is District 10, Democrat Mike Quinn won that district by 45 votes in 2016. She says the next closest race is the 11th District represented by Republican Scott McGraw. He won by just over 500 votes out of nearly 11,000 cast two years ago.