A Kalamazoo County Commissioner resigned after he moving outside the district he represents in violation of a residency state law.
Kevin Wordelman, who represented District 2, resigned from his position Tuesday after he closed on a new home in September within the Westwood Neighborhood of Kalamazoo. Some of his colleagues said he didn’t tell them about his move and explained they heard the news from administration a couple days before Wordelman’s resignation.
“Of course it’s disappointing. Any time you’re serving with colleagues, you expect them to be able to serve for the full term,” said District 5 Commissioner Julie Rogers. “We wear an oath for a two year term.”
Rogers explained Michigan law requires them live in their districts during the entire term.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Wordelman apologized to the people he served, saying the new home was the right thing to do at the right time for his family. His term would have ended December 31 and he said he chose not to run for reelection because his family intended to move this year.
Before Wordelman’s resignation, Democrats held a 6-5 majority on the board. Rogers explained there were proposals Wordelman voted on after his move. She said the rest of the board will have to revisit those items and take a new vote, which includes the 2019 Budget.
“The budget is the main one and I think corporate counsel is going back to see if there’s any close votes that were 6-5. But the budget is the primary one that we will have to consider,” said Rogers. “We also have the pending opioid litigation…and we’re waiting to finalize the legal documents with the law firm Summer Schwartz. And then also, indigent defense. We have a new indigent defense plan that we’re correcting and those are all things we’re committed to finishing before then end of the year.”
District 10 Commissioner Mike Quinn served on the board in 2009-2010 and was elected again in 2017. He said there’s a major difference between the two boards he has served on, saying the current board is far more controversial.
Quinn said he’s witnessed many personal attacks between commissioners. “I think we’re all embarrassed by it and it certainly doesn’t help get the work done."
When asked how his first term compares to his current one, Quinn said, “Civility for one thing and I believe there was actually more cooperation then.”
He mentioned, despite the conflict among commissioners, important work is happening, like the approval of the of Senior Millage and Kalamazoo County ID’s, to name a few.
“We are taking care of business but it can get pretty darn abrasive sometimes. And sometimes I think we’re not getting the best solutions to the problems we face,” said Quinn.
Some commissioners said Wordelman’s sudden departure adds onto the drama the board has seen.
“I’m looking forward to a new year January 1 and we continue to have a lot of positive wins that we’ve had over the course of the year,” said Rogers.
“I’m hoping the pages on the calendar turn and we get into a new term with some different faces and resolve to have more amity and cooperation in our proceedings,” said Quinn.
Some voters described county government as dysfunctional. People are worried the lack of collaboration affect services to help those less fortunate.
“We just had one agency completely disbanded and got rid of because no agreement made around that. We’ve seen that with Veterans Affairs where we can’t get consensus on how to take care of the people that deserve the most levels of care. And it’s just not good for any of us,” said Ron Kitchens, president and CEO of Southwest Michigan First.
Kitchens said he has worked with all of the commissioners on different proposals. When discussing ideas about an arena in downtown Kalamazoo, Kitchens said he was frustrated with the responses he was receiving from commissioners.
"The discussions were rarely about merits and more about, ‘Well, if this person supports it, I can’t support it because we’re fighting about this and we can’t get along about that,’ and so partisanship has been injected and rhetoric as oppose to just being able to look at things on their merit,” said Kitchens.
Kitchens said he truly believes the commissioners have good intentions and want the best for the county. He said if elected officials really want to see a successful county in the future, commissioners will have to set aside their differences and work hard while the current economy is good.
“I worry if we don’t do all the big things now when times begin to decline, and they will, economies are cycles, we won’t have the resources, the people, the financial resources or the capacity to serve those who are most vulnerable,” said Kitchens.
Rogers explained the Board of Commissioners have to decide to appoint someone to Wordelman’s seat or hold a special election. She said those options will be discussed, starting at the next meeting, October 16.
She said, though Wordelman’s unexpected leave was a surprise, she sees it as a “road bump” for the board, rather than a set back.
“I think all 10 of us that are remaining are committed to doing the business and the work of Kalamazoo County moving forward, so it shouldn’t change day to day operations and people in District 2 can expect to have the same quality of care that they’re experiencing prior to this event happening,” said Rogers.