Coleman to Serve on County Road Commission

(Photo by John Deacon|American Courthouse Photo Archive)

Jack Coleman, who recently ran for the seat of 59th District Representative in the Michigan legislature, has a new position in St. Joseph County. At a regular meeting Tuesday evening, the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners (BOC) appointed Coleman to an upcoming vacancy on the St. Joseph County Road Commission (SJCRC). Coleman will replace John Bippus in the position, which turns over after January 31.

Although Bippus also reapplied to the Road Commission seat, BOC members chose Coleman upon the recommendation of an interview panel that consisted of BOC chair Dennis Allen, County Commissioner Daniel Czajkowski, and four Township Supervisors from around the county. Czajkowski said although 30 minutes were permitted for each interview, the total process ended up lasting more than two hours as panelists discussed the relative merits of the applicants.

Allen said both candidates had “good ideas going forward,” but that the majority recommended Coleman “for no specific reasons,” other than that Coleman “was a new person with new ideas, and someone who wants to be involved.” Allen further said the panel’s recommendation reflected the idea that “change is always good.”

Bippus, a commercial real estate broker, has served on the SJCRC for 12 years, and at a recent SJCRC meeting, fellow road commissioners commended him for his contributions to that board’s work. Several offered to voice their support for his reappointment. During interviews this week, Czajkowski said Bippus remarked on the interview process, saying it was an improvement over the previous method of appointment, which involved automatic renewals of incumbent members.

Outgoing First District County Commissioner Allen Balog said in his 10 years of service in his position, Tuesday’s appointment was “the first time we’ve done an appointment this way.” In the past, Balog said, the members of a board on which there was an opening would report to the County Commission at its Executive Committee meeting, which typically occurs to detail action items and set an agenda the week prior to the regular meeting.

Doing so, Balog said, permitted a greater opportunity for in-depth discussion on the matter. Balog said he was not opposed to the panel’s recommendation and would move forward with Coleman’s appointment if the majority wanted it. However, Balog also said he was concerned Coleman could decide to run for the State Representative position again in two years. Commissioner Kathy Pangle said commissioners “shouldn’t assume anything” in that regard, and said she supported Allen’s methodology in making the recommended selection.

Commissioner Ken Malone said he agreed with Balog, that “change for the sake of change” was “not necessarily positive or negative,” that he saw “no reason to take someone away,” and that he would “personally like to see (Bippus)” remain on the SJCRC board.

In this year’s August Primary General Election, Coleman ran for the Republican nomination to the 59th District seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. After losing that nomination to Steve Carra, Coleman ran for the same seat as a write-in candidate during the General Election earlier this month. He lost that race to Carra as well, but Coleman has since been pursuing other ways to stay involved in public decision making.

Despite his objections, Balog voted in support of Coleman’s appointment. Malone cast the sole dissenting vote. Pangle thanked Bippus for his service on the SJCRC board, but also said she thinks Coleman will do a good job.

Designated Assessor Approved

Commissioners also voted to approve the appointment of Joshua Simmons to the position of Designated Assessor. The position requires the approval of the County Commission as well as a majority of the municipalities and townships in the county. There are sixteen townships in the county, in addition to several villages and the cities of Three Rivers and Sturgis. In previous meetings, Township Supervisors have generally said they would approve of Simmons’ appointment.

The Designated Assessor position is required by a new state law passed in 2018. Previously, if a local jurisdiction failed to meet its property assessment duties and reporting requirements with the state and consecutively failed to respond to three state inquiries, state officials would appoint an assessor to take over local assessment functions. The local government entity was then billed by the state for the cost of the appointed assessor, plus state fees.

Under the new law, each county chooses its own Designated Assessor, who bills the local entity directly in the event of a failure that requires a takeover. Dale Hutson, who serves as the assessor for a number of St. Joseph County’s townships, said such takeovers are rare due to the amount of time and level of failure required to reach that point. Typically, a township would fire its assessor and take its own corrective measures first.

Because there were no other applicants for the St. Joseph County position, Simmons stepped forward. Simmons is currently also the county’s Equalization Director. In previous statements, Simmons said the Designated Assessor’s duties would not significantly impact his current role, partly because of the unlikeliness he will be called upon, and partly because he plans mostly to supervise other people in the execution of the assessment work if needed.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.