Kzoo Co. Commission seat will stay empty for now

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners will be down one member until Jan. 1 after a now evenly split board ran into partisan deadlock on its very first vote to fill an empty seat.

What this means for the future has some commissioners worried.

The loss of a Democratic member who moved out of his district leaves the board with a 5-5 split between Republicans and Democrats. The divide was in full display Tuesday during a commission meeting as the board tried to fill Kevin Wordelman’s District 2 seat.

Wordelman moved out of his district Sept. 24, but continued to vote and make proposals and amendments at least one meeting. He voted on and introduced some important county business, including amendments to the county budget that now are invalid.

Other issues that must be addressed include creating an indigent defense solution as mandated by law, participating in a lawsuit against opioid providers, and accepting and distributing $500,000 in Public Housing Commission grants for the homeless. The board had moved on all of those issues — all by 5-6 votes — but the decisions were thrown out when Wordelman moved.

Under state law, the county board can appoint a new member within 30 days or hold a special election to fill the seat, but there is no special election available until May.

On Tuesday, the five Democratic members wanted to vote to appoint the sole candidate on the November ballot, Democrat Paul Haag, to the seat. Republicans were more hesitant.

“We’re quick to investigate things. Let’s investigate this and make sure there isn’t something that we’re missing,” Commission Vice Chair Dale Shugards, R-Kalamazoo, said.

His fellow Republicans were of the same opinion.

“We’ve got to slow down a little bit and get through some questions about process, about what we want to do going forward,” Commissioner Ron Kendall, R-Richland, said. “I understand the statute says ‘shall,’ but there is a mechanism in place should that shall not be achieved.”

In the end, all five Republicans said they would not vote to appoint someone to the seat, leaving it open.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t believe we’re going to be able to reach a bipartisan consensus to be able to fill this seat,” board Chair Stephanie Moore, D-Kalamazoo, said. “I believe it’s extremely unfortunate. I want to offer my sincere apology and deepest sympathy to the citizens of District 2.”

Because he’s unopposed, Haag is virtually certain to win the seat in November and be sworn in in January. He said Tuesday he was ready and willing to step up early.

“Folks that live in the 2nd district of Kalamazoo don’t have representation. That’s a calamity,” Haag said.

So what happens in the interim?

“I’m terrified and I’m serious, I’m terrified. I can just imagine that some of the things that were passed in the previous meeting probably won’t go through,” Moore said.

Republicans say having the seat unfilled is just no big deal, despite the initial deadlock.

“I never try to predict the future, especially when it comes to the Kalamazoo Board of Commissioners,” said John Gisler, R- Scotts.

Commissioners did pass a budget Tuesday, but it did not include the money for the homeless that passed previously and likely would have passed if the appointment had been made.

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