Opinion: Use the next 100 days to get Genesee County back on track
Finding unity in politics is tough, but we can fix our government with the right leadership in place.
For the past 12 years, as a township trustee, county commissioner and chair of the Genesee County Commission, I have worked to bring people together and work on our region's most significant challenges. Over the years, we had to make tough decisions about the county's future. It started with who we hired.
For decades, jobs in the county were handed to friends and family, without proper vetting. As a result, our infrastructure aged, the delivery of county services remained antiquated, and our county is at risk of financial collapse and state control. We put an end to favoritism, cronyism and nepotism by taking the politics out of the hiring process.
With these new leaders, we were able to see several new projects completed, even while we were grappling with the pandemic. This includes:
► The renovation at the Genesee County Jail;
► The consolidation of the county's Friend of the Court operation into one building;
► A new animal control building.
To address the county's legacy costs and avoid a financial crises, we used data-informed research to adopt a budget that conserved cash and managed the rising health care costs for our retirees and current staff, saving $7 million. Not everyone liked our decision, including some still in county government who successfully challenged the budget, resulting in the county going back to its old ways. Our plan would have kept the county solvent and the state out of the county.
During my time on the county commission and as chair of the Public Works Commission, we found that the county's IT infrastructure was never updated due to decades of neglect. As a result, we fell victim to a ransomware attack that shut down several county functions. The county was not prepared. Today, we have the proper protocols in place to minimize any damage from future attacks.
Looking ahead, Genesee County will continue to face challenges to progress. Faced with the immediate needs of treating and preventing COVID-19 outbreaks while embarking on a mass vaccination effort should be everyone's priority. At the same time, we cannot ignore the financial realities of protecting everyone’s health and safety.
While our county continues to grapple with the Flint water crisis, I do not want the recent charges against former Gov. Rick Snyder and his staff to deter anyone from running for office. When I decided to run for public office, I already had a successful small business, but I knew my children would not come home to Genesee County if there was nothing here for them.
When GM left the county, we lost revenue. In 2008 our economy suffered again, and the Flint water crisis continues to strain county resources. In the coming months, our county’s financial situation will only get worse, and an open and transparent county government is at risk of going back to the old way of doing things.
While I am proud of my accomplishments as chair of the Genesee County Commission, I know there is so much more work to do.
The next 100 days will be critical to setting our county and country back on track. I hope our elected leaders can rise above the politics, keep our government open and transparent, and for the sake of our friends, neighbors and family, find the will and the way to work together and get it done.
Martin Cousineau, a chiropractor, represented Genesee County’s 7th County Commission District since 2017 and was former chair of the Genesee County Commission.