Wayne Co. voters to decide on executive, money issues

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County voters will choose a new county executive and decide on a slew of local issues ranging from police and fire tax renewals to charter ordinances allowing information to be seen online instead of in print.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s loss in his re-election bid in August clears the way for a new county executive for the first time in 12 years.

Democrat Warren Evans, 65, faces Republican John Dalton, 23, and Libertarian Keith Butkovich in the Nov. 4 general election. The winner will serve a four-year term.

“The two most pressing issues facing the county are its extremely precarious financial condition and the unfinished jail project,” Evans said in a statement.

“The county has filed a deficit elimination plan with the state and we are closely monitoring the progress the county is making in executing that plan. Failure to execute certain aspects of the plan would mean the situation will be even more severe by the time Jan. 1 rolls around.”

The county faces deficits of up to $30 million annually, one of the main reasons voters ousted Ficano.

The county has already hit triggers qualifying it for an emergency manager. The state’s Treasury Department continues to monitor the county and has worked with officials in the past.

But the county hasn’t had viable deficit elimination plan in years, and the current one involving the sale of a wastewater treatment plant to Downriver communities is in doubt.

Ficano also was plagued by scandals over the past three years, including a $200,000 severance payment to Turkia Mullin, his former economic development chief, and a halted jail project that will cost taxpayers because it has gone tens — or hundreds of millions — of dollars over budget.

Evans said he would begin a review of the county’s books if elected.

“We have to turn over every stone to find out exactly what our condition is before we can begin to make informed decisions about where we go next,” he said.

He promised transparency and said his administration would work with county officials “rather than continually battling them in the courts.”

A committee headed by former Wayne County Circuit Judge Richard Kaufman will evaluate the jail situation, he said.

Dalton, who grew up in Plymouth and is a 2009 Salem High School graduate, studies political science at Schoolcraft College. He also serves on Livonia’s Human Resource Commission.

Dalton admits he’s a long shot in the race, but he said he’s heard from people across the county who have had enough of familiar names on the ballot in the light of the county’s recent history.

The financial crisis in the county and the jail issue are things that will affect the county now and decades later, he said.

Dalton said he would work to establish a fiscal stability committee made up of business and financial sector volunteers to craft a deficit elimination plan for the county.

“By getting out there at my age and talking about these issues may open the eyes to others my age and make them realize this is something we’re going to have to deal with,” he said.

Evans’ election can nearly be considered a foregone conclusion in the heavily Democratic county. He is the former Wayne County sheriff and Detroit police chief, has name recognition and local political history.

Other issues

■Amend charter to authorize chair of the Wayne County Commission to appoint a designee on the Retirement Commission. Commission seats for the 15 districts will also be decided.

■There are charter amendments issues in Belleville, Garden City, Highland Park, Romulus, Southgate, Trenton and Wayne.

■School district races and/or funding issues are on the balot in Wayne, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Detroit, Ecorse, Garden City. Gibraltar, Grossse Ile, Grosse Pointe, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Huron, Livonia, Melvindale, Allen Park, Northville, Redford, River Rouge, Riverview, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Trenton, Westland and Wyandotte.

■Library issues are on ballots in Belleville, Northville, Plymouth and Redford.