Bankole: Whitmer transition faces questions ahead of Jan. 1

Bankole Thompson

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s transition team is working towards getting state government up and running by Jan. 1, according to an official with the transition.

And all 17 state departments and their outgoing directors are briefing the transition team, while at the same time candidates are being vetted to fill in vacancies ahead of the new year.

Clare Liening, the transition’s press secretary in response to a series of questions about the state of the transition, said there is no timeline for Whitmer to receive a report from the transition team's office headed by prominent attorney Mark Bernstein.  

Bankole writes: "All 17 state departments are briefing the transition team, while at the same time candidates are being vetted to fill in vacancies."

“There will not be a singular, formal report prepared and presented to the governor-elect. The transition team is working on a number of items relating to preparing the administration to get to work beginning on January 1,” Liening said. “Throughout the transition period, the governor-elect and her team are being briefed on a wide range of issues relating to state government.”

The transition team has already received briefings from outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder’s department heads and is reviewing them.

“The team is working with each department to submit questions and requests for information so that the newly named department directors will be prepared to lead,” Liening said.

But who specifically is in charge of hiring personnel for the incoming Whitmer administration and what positions will be filled immediately?

“The governor-elect makes all final decisions regarding appointments and positions,” Liening said. “The transition team is reviewing applications, vetting candidates and interviewing potential candidates for consideration by the governor-elect.”

During the campaign, Whitmer vowed her cabinet will reflect the diversity of the state. While the transition panel isn’t talking about who is being interviewed for various top roles, Liening said that commitment isn’t lost.

“A diverse range of candidates have applied and are being considered and the individuals appointed will speak to this commitment,” Liening said.

Dennis Muchmore, a veteran Lansing insider, who served as Snyder’s chief of staff when he took office in 2011, said the most difficult part of the transition is finding the right people to lead agencies in the future.

“I think they (transition team) have to be mindful of what they don’t know. State government is a massive undertaking, $56.8 billion total annual budget with 47,000 employees,” Muchmore said. “When you put that in perspective you are dealing with a massive operation, and frankly you only have about six positions in each department that are not civil service. The rest of the people are already there.”

Muchmore said what each position that has to be filled requires, will have to be carefully analyzed so that it is in line with the vision of the incoming administration.

“I assume that they are focused mostly on what style of leadership they want in these positions and how it will interact with the incoming governor to carry out her interest,” Muchmore said. “Snyder got multiple reports from 20 different teams that took different parts of state government and analyzed it. We had transition team meetings with the governor because everything has to be up and running by Jan. 1.”

He added, “We held over some department directors because we felt good about what they were doing, and I felt that was the proper way.”

Whitmer’s transition is also meticulously looking at creating a cabinet-level poverty secretary, to fulfill one of her major campaign promises. The position which she first announced at a gubernatorial town hall on poverty I moderated during the primary, will be the first of its kind in state government. It could have consequential impact depending on the kind of mandate it receives from the governor herself.

“Options for creating this position are being analyzed by the transition team including options for internal department reorganization, executive order and legislation,” Liening said.

State Rep. Ronnie Peterson (D- Ypsilanti) has long been concerned about families living in poverty in the state. He said the appointment of a poverty secretary will help state government.

“We must face it. State agencies should be collaborating on a masterplan to fight rural and urban poverty. That’s non-negotiable,” Peterson said. “What we are talking about is the governor granting someone the authority to act on her behalf with the needed resources to force state departments to coordinate and communicate about what they are doing regarding poverty.”

Peterson said the issue shouldn’t be misconstrued as a request to put more people on the welfare roll.

“This is not about expanding the welfare system. We are talking about giving people a skill set to be employable through employment agencies,” Peterson said. “We are talking about working with school districts to feed children who are going to school hungry.”

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