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December 14, 2020
To: Local Units of Government
From: Gregory Dill Washtenaw County Administrator
Re: 2020 Year End Update
We all began 2020 with a fresh perspective and optimism for a year that would yield prosperity for us all. We set goals and made plans. As public servants, many of our staff use a new year to review our service delivery model and work to incrementally improve ourselves and our departments. We work with our community partners and local governments to align services. Then, March 13 happened, a day where we were forced to realize that we were going to join the rest of the world and be impacted by COVID-19; as the safety net in our county, we had to make swift decisions that served to protect everyone’s health while continuing to provide essential services. We united with a sense of urgency and we worked with you to help us make the best decisions. Together, we did our best to prevent Washtenaw County from becoming a COVID statistic. There is no handbook on how to navigate a global pandemic, but through the incredibly dedicated talent that exists in our organization, our community partners and our local units of government, we persevered and saved lives. The leadership provided by our Health Officer Jimena Loveluck, her staff and our own Board of Commissioners has helped us to navigate these unprecedented times. They continue to make decisions that are steeped in science, and recommendations that will help to end COVID-19. I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished together these past 9 months.
Although we were forced to shift our attention and our resources to our COVID response, most of our county day-to-day operations were required to carry on. Throughout the organization, staff continued to work remotely and provide support to our customers and our mandated, first responder and essential staff. You are all heroes and working with you is a privilege.
The work our community partners do is second to none. Collectively, you are experts in the specialized and targeted services you provide. It is an honor to work with you so we may better understand the needs of our residents, and where necessary, we are grateful we can provide support, so you are able to continue your good work.
To our local units of government, you are closest to our residents and best understand the services that are most important to help maintain a good quality of life for everyone. The relationship between you and county government is one that offers immense value, and by helping us to understand the unique needs of your community, we’re able to work collaboratively and maximize our combined resources. I value our partnerships and respect you for the work you do.
Finally, our residents. You are our neighbors and the heart of Washtenaw County, and I appreciate having the opportunity to speak to so many of you and learn how we can support you through this difficult year. Your willingness to help others in your community resonates; you expressed concern and support for our service workers and local small businesses just as passionately as you praised our first responders. You helped take care of one another and you demonstrated that Washtenaw County is not a community of ‘I’ and ‘me’, but ‘us’. You make this county a better place and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
While COVID has been a consideration in all our work this year, we have continued to move forward with other county services. Here are a few updates: COVID 2021 – Modified Operations Plan When we returned to our modified service delivery model in June, I hoped by now we’d be at the point of fully re-opening county government. Alas, COVID has proven to be a worthy opponent, and fully reopening is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. While I don’t have all the answers, I can continue to assure you that I work closely with Jimena and her team, our elected officials and our departmental leadership to make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone’s health. I will continue to rely on their collective guidance and advice, as well as the directives from Governor Whitmer. My decisions will be based on the best information we have at any given time, including scientific facts and projections.
Currently, given all the information available, we will maintain our modified operations plan until such time that COVID cases show a marked and consistent decline and health experts are comfortable with increased person-to-person interactions. Of course, whenever any changes are made to our service delivery model, I will communicate that internally and externally. I thank staff for their flexibility and the creative ways they’ve found to preserve as much normalcy as possible in their departments.
Budget Reaffirmation: The Quadrennial 2021-2024 Recommended Budget (cover memo, general fund budget summary by category account and resolution) was presented to the Board of Commissioners on October 21, 2020. The Commissioners then reviewed, asked questions and deliberated on the budget recommendations. During the November 18, 2020, Ways & Means meeting, the Board of Commissioners made a few modifications and approved the budget. The budget received final approval on December 2, 2020.
Washtenaw County experienced record voter turnout during the November 3, 2020 General Election. 217,820 voters cast a ballot, setting a record for the number of ballots cast during any election. 163,490 voters cast an Absent Voter Ballot in lieu of appearing to vote in-person on Election Day, shattering previous records and accounting for 75% of all ballots cast. 97% of Absent Voter Ballots were returned by voters in time to be counted.
The General Election proceeded smoothly in Washtenaw County with no significant problems reported. The County Clerk’s office received no reports of violence or intimidation. Unofficial election results were 100% reported at 3:30 am on Wednesday, November 4.
The bi-partisan Washtenaw County Board of Canvassers completed and certified the canvass of the election on Thursday, November 12. Official election results can be found at Washtenaw.org/Elections.
This election took place amidst unprecedented challenges presented by the ongoing public health crisis. In addition, new processes were implemented for the first time during a major election after voting rights were expanded through a constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018. Careful and thorough preparations were made to ensure this election would be successfully administered.
The County Clerk’s office partnered closely with City and Township Clerks and the Michigan Secretary of State to ensure election preparedness, especially in the areas of voter & poll worker health & safety, poll worker recruitment & training, and ensuring the efficient processing of absent voter ballots.
City and Township Clerks worked tirelessly and several innovated new ways to provide service to their voters. The City of Ann Arbor opened a satellite voting location on the University of Michigan campus. Many cities and townships added absentee ballot drop boxes, provided expanded office hours, and offered voters postage pre-paid return envelopes for absent voter ballots.
The County Clerk’s office provided additional voting equipment and funding to cities and townships to assist in their efforts to process absentee ballots, as well as personal protective equipment to keep poll workers and voters safe.
The County Clerk’s office was directly engaged in outreach leading up to this election, including development of online tools to aid poll worker recruitment and allow voters to register for their Permanent Absent Voter List; the publication of a 4-part voter education video series; a partnership with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area to register voters in every county high school; a partnership with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office to register eligible voters awaiting trial in the corrections system and provide them access to an Absent Voter Ballot; presentations at numerous community meetings sponsored by colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations; frequent contributions to local print & radio media outlets; and contributions to a county-wide print newsletter.
The County Clerk’s office met regularly over the course of the previous year with Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office, County Information Technology, Facilities, Communications & Public Health staff to make and review comprehensive election preparedness and business continuity plans.
These and many other efforts made by election officials and stakeholders at all levels – combined with a patient and engaged electorate – resulted in the successful administration of this election. Environmental Efforts: Since its inception in 2019, the Washtenaw County Environmental Council has been a voice advocating for the county’s sustainability efforts. Made up of 12 residents from throughout the county (and one member-at-large who has recently relocated to Vermont), the council follows environmental efforts throughout the state of Michigan and the country. In November, the council received an update on the State of Michigan’s environmental work – including renewable energy and waste reduction efforts. In July, the Environmental Council passed a resolution in support of accelerating Washtenaw County’s Carbon Neutrality Goal to 2030 from 2035. The Board of Commissioners passed the resolution to change the goal in August. In September, the group heard from DTE’s “MI Green Power” program. The council asked important questions about affordable solar options, how DTE is reducing its emissions, and how to make sustainability accessible and affordable for low-income residents. The biggest question was “Is DTE as a company willing to take any responsibility in the area of environmental justice?”
Lastly, the Council has been working steadily to frame a document that may help shape the county-wide Climate Action Plan. In September, a sub-committee of council members formed the Community Engagement Committee to figure out ways to engage and educate residents from all over the county as a part of a county-wide climate action strategy.
Remote Learning:No one has felt the impact of COVID-19 more than students and their families. School districts who were already facing educational and economic challenges, saw those challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Our own Broadband Task Force worked with our rural townships to ensure residents had additional access points, so those students whose homes are in areas not served by incumbent internet providers will have options when performing their remote learning assignments. Some township halls were already providing hotspots for their residents, the Broadband Task Force helped to ensure all rural townships now have a hotspot in their parking lots – so instead of driving many miles to find hotspots in metropolitan areas, families have a resource that is closer to home. The Broadband Task Force is simultaneously working to identify a solution that will bring high speed internet infrastructure to every rural home in the county. This year, they have conducted a survey, a feasibility study and by the end of January, plan to have identified a partnership with an internet provider that will help them to put together a grant application that, if approved, will move our county in the direction of true, countywide broadband equity, by having reliable, high speed internet coverage available in all 28 of our cities, villages and townships.
Then, at the direction of State Representative Ronnie Peterson, Commissioner Ricky Jefferson and Administrator Dill, the Racial Equity Office is working in partnership with the Family Empowerment Program (Ypsilanti Housing Commission), Ypsilanti Community School/ Collaborative for Change, Inc., the EMU EnGage office, Washtenaw Community College, and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to stand up Learning Labs at several sites around the county. Beginning in January, the sites will be operated by YCS staff and EMU College of Education students. YCS students and other K-5 students in the community will receive personalized educational support, access to technology and meals during school hours and tutoring and other social-emotional support activities after school. Washtenaw County is providing facilities support so that all locations will be properly cleaned and sanitized, have the appropriate ventilation, PPE and cleaning supplies, sufficient social distancing and other facility related amenities (desks, chairs, etc). The Racial Equity office is in weekly meetings with the named community partners to ensure that the school-aged youth and families in Washtenaw County have the educational support needed to safely continue learning in our new COVID-19 environment. We intend to duplicate the model in other communities throughout the county. Commission on Aging:Did you know that Washtenaw County’s residents age 60 and older are the fastest growing population in the county? This new commission was established in May and will go into effect in January of 2021. It was championed by Commissioner Jason Maciejewski who, in his day job, works as a director with the Area on Aging. While there are no members yet, the Board of Commissioners received 13 applications for the 10 available spots. After their appointments earlier this month, the group will get to work building out a sustainable commission that makes recommendations to the Board of Commissioners on policies impacting the aging residents of Washtenaw County. Youth Commission: Housed at The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, The Washtenaw County Youth Commission is now in its second term and the youth are excited about their work. Over 60
students applied to join the commission for its second cycle and on July 1, 2020, eight (8) new young people from all over the county were appointed to the Youth Commission. They haven’t let COVID-19 alter their plans and have regularly met, via Zoom, to decide on their annual priorities, community build and to develop strategies to tackle problems important to county youth. The Youth Commission recently launched social media profiles to get their messages out and were even featured in an online article on Concentrate Media.
On November 15th, several Commissioners and the Racial Equity Officer, Alize Asberry Payne, were invited to join the Youth Commission for a discussion on priorities and how racial equity fits into achieving the Board’s goals.
Racial Equity:The county continues to integrate a racial equity frame into all county operations and support of community partners. From “Learning Labs” to sustainability, to health access and digital accessibility - holistic equity requires that we think about and centralize equity throughout our operations. To that end, the focus of work for the Equity Office since the start of the summer and through the fall has continued to primarily address equity issues arising from or exasperated by COVID. This work is in addition to general county operations as part of the leadership team as well as support and advising departments on equity issues/response.
Internally, the Racial Equity Officer worked with Corporation Counsel Michelle Billard and the Human Resources team to develop a comprehensive Equity & Inclusion Statement & Nondiscrimination Policy at the request of Chair Jason Morgan. That policy was passed by the Board of Commissioners on November 4, 2020.
The Racial Equity Officer, in partnership with the Administrator’s Office hosted “Employee Listening Sessions”. They were held virtually on September 24th, 26th and 30th and were attended by approximately 110 employees. The comments and concerns from those sessions were recorded and will inform communication and some procedures moving forward.
Externally, the Racial Equity Officer has been working with a number of community partners to stand up “Learning Labs” in communities throughout portions of the county. The goal is to provide support for families during the pandemic. Ensuring that there is safe, personalized support that is close to home will help ensure that our students aren’t left behind.
We continue to represent Washtenaw County in the Statewide COVID-19 Racial Disparity Taskforce. The Taskforce distributed $20M worth of rapid response funding, state-wide, to boost capacity for testing, increase community-driven messaging and get PPE and supplies to families in need. Washtenaw county area community agencies and organizations received $1M in funding, including $263k that went to Washtenaw County Health Department. As an extension of the work of the Racial Disparity Task Force, starting in mid-September, the Racial Equity Officer and BOC Communication & Operations manager participated in LARA workgroups to develop the rules for Governor Whitmer’s executive order requiring ongoing implicit bias training for licensing of health care providers, at all levels, making Michigan a national health care leader with this model.
Lastly, in an exciting expansion of the capacity of the Equity Office, on November 23, 2020, Crystal S. Campbell joined the team as our Program and Communication manager. She will help the office to implement our strategic plan and lead key areas of our regional equity communications framework. As always, the goal of the Equity Office is to shape policies and practices that make Washtenaw County government an equitable place to work and support development of a community where neither race nor place determine opportunity.
Road Commission: In March of this year, our Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the Washtenaw County Road Commission from three to five members, thus offering greater representation from all areas of the county. In June, Road Commissioners JoAnn McCollum and Gloria Llamas joined existing commissioners Barb Fuller, Rod Green and Chair Doug Fuller. Together, this diverse group will help to oversee the safe, efficient roads and bridges in Washtenaw County while working collaboratively with local business communities, economic development agencies, industries and the public.
COVID-19 cases and related metrics (case positivity, hospitalizations, deaths) are high and continuing to increase. Risk of exposure is present whenever you are out in public or having direct contact with others.
Everyone should continue to use COVID-19 precautions (face coverings, distance, and extra hand cleaning) and avoid any in-person gatherings that are not necessary. Everyone should also be aware that we cannot currently follow up with all cases or contacts. If individuals have tested positive or have had close contact with an individual, they should isolate (if positive/symptomatic) or quarantine if exposed. Nobody can test out of quarantine. If you have been exposed, but have no symptoms, you should continue to quarantine for the full 14 days because the virus can take that long to make you sick. See more guidance https://bit.ly/3pdwtDN or visit www.washtenaw.org/covid19.
Demand for COVID-19 testing is also very high. Longer wait times are being reported for testing appointments and results. Please be patient and continue to isolate or quarantine if you are waiting on testing or results.
Current increases are likely due to several things and not unique to Washtenaw County:
Additionally, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services MDHHS “Pause to Save lives” asks us all to limit any in-person gatherings or activities as much as possible.
In anticipation of COVID-19 vaccines starting to arrive this week, the Washtenaw County Health Department – WCHD is fully prepared for their storage and distribution. The deep freezers necessary for proper storage are installed and ready for use and our nursing staff have been assigned so we may quickly mobilize and offer immunizations to those identified by Centers for Disease Control and MDHHS in the initial prioritization groups. Initial quantities are expected to be small, and health care workers and those who will be giving the vaccine to others will be vaccinated first. As we receive information on the availability of this important step to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be shared on our website: https://www.washtenaw.org/3269/COVID-19-Vaccination
Local COVID-19 information is available at www.washtenaw.org/covid19. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates (@wcpublichealth).
Sheltering: Recent changes are italicized.
This year, Winter Warming Shelter programming started early to allow for key transitions and additional shelter options for individuals experiencing homelessness, keeping with safety measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Winter homeless sheltering efforts began on November 2 as a part of community response.
Due to the need to maintain social distancing, the normal winter capacity of the Delonis Center has been reduced from 145 beds to 70 beds. Over time the Shelter Association, who operates the Delonis Center, has established long-term partnerships with six local congregations. These congregations have expanded their partnership to provide rotating overnight shelter (and in some cases, daytime shelter) for an entire month each from November 2020 through March 2021 to help address the reduced capacity at the Delonis Center.
Additionally, the Shelter Association has received additional funding to provide hotel stays for Shelter Association clients who are the most medically fragile. Those hotel stays will be on a smaller scale at a different Ann Arbor area hotel. The Washtenaw County Health Department has recently finalized measures for isolation and quarantine accommodations, should those be needed.
On November 2, 2020, the following shifts occurred:
Overflow and 24/7 shelter
The current phase will be similar to winter warming season response led by the Shelter Association, but with extra precautions in place to provide safe winter shelter options for daytime and overnight. Weekly COVID testing has been in place for clients and staff, and existing protocols such as temperature screenings, mask wearing, and social distancing are still in effect. The last COVID+ case for a shelter client was in March.
Additionally, work continues on accelerating permanent housing placements for individuals experiencing homelessness. The county’s Office of Community and Economic Development has been able to direct CARES Act funding for homeless populations to support case management and rental assistance through Rapid Rehousing to prioritize housing placements for Shelter Clients previously staying at the Red Roof Inn.
In order to improve the quality of the life, and protect the health of our local sheltering clients, we’ve worked with local advocates to address the following areas of concern:
Concern: We ask that the City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the University of Michigan put their considerable resources toward utilizing an available building to house people safely, with every individual in their own room for safe social distancing and for dignity.
As noted above, a number of hotel rooms are available for those who are most medically fragile. The Shelter Association, in coordination with Packard Health, is assessing clients and prioritizing locations for clients based on various needs and ability to provide needed supports.
City and County staff had a follow up call with the University of Michigan. On that call, and subsequent conversations, the University of Michigan indicated that the dorms are still in use, but at a reduced capacity. There are no vacant dorms available for use at this time.
Concern: We request that Washtenaw County’s rainy-day fund be used to shelter every person who needs shelter. If Meri Lou Rec Center is utilized, we ask that it operate for 24 hours per day, and not be open for public use. People will be able to stay while the pandemic is happening - until another shelter option is available, or until they receive housing.
Resolution: The County is providing the use of the Learning Resource Center for a 24/7 facility, and will be providing cleaning, maintenance and other assistance. Based on the use of Delonis Center, rotating Congregation, hotels and now the LRC, we are meeting projected capacity needs.
Concern: If community members choose to camp, they are allowed to occupy a safe plot of land where they will not be harassed by police. Access to sanitation will be provided as needed.
Resolution: The City of Ann Arbor Police, Washtenaw County Sheriff and other local police forces have indicated no desire to displace campers. Washtenaw County’s PORT/PATH team is notified in cases where there are complaints, so they can assist campers. If there are cases of displacement, please contact OCED staff ASAP.
Concern: People experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity must be primary in this conversation. Decisions should not be made only by government agencies, but by the people whose health and needs are most impacted by the outcome.
Resolution: We acknowledge the need to engage those with lived experience more broadly in decisions about the homelessness system (not just sheltering). There are a few individuals on the Continuum of Care board that have experienced homelessness, but we acknowledge it is a small number of individuals. The COC is actively trying to engage those with lived experience better and has recently engaged community and those with lived homelessness experience through BIPOC focus groups, focusing on the lived experience of Black Residents in Washtenaw County facing homelessness.
We encourage those with lived experience, as well as advocates, to engage with the homelessness system through the Continuum of Care. There are community-wide meetings twice a year, and bimonthly meetings open to the public. Additionally, the County has recently been holding regular zoom calls on the winter response and can extend that invite once it’s set.
CDC Moratorium on Evictions: The Centers for Disease Control Moratorium on evictions is in place through the 2020 calendar year. At this point it remains unclear as to whether or not this program, or one similar can be extended. There are a few important things of note:
Changes in County Leadership: As a result of our November election, we’ll be welcoming two new County Commissioners, a new Prosecuting Attorney and a new Trial Court Judge to the Washtenaw County family. District 4 Commissioner Felicia Brabec was successful in her campaign to represent District 55 as a State Representative. She is being succeeded by Caroline Sanders. District 5 Commissioner Ruth Ann Jamnick is retiring after a lifelong career in public service, Justin Hodge has been elected to replace her. Brian Mackie, our Prosecuting Attorney for 28 years will be enjoying a much-deserved retirement, Eli Savit is looking forward to the challenges associated with leading that department. Circuit Court Judge David S. Swartz started his Washtenaw County employment in the 1970’s and has been an incredible jurist for the citizens of Washtenaw County. Tracy Vandenberg was elected to occupy his place on the bench. Each of our newly elected leaders begin their term on January 1, 2021, and I’m confident each possess goals and priorities that will serve to improve policy and enhance the quality of life for our residents. As we thank each of our outgoing elected leaders for their contributions to county government, we simultaneously welcome those who are beginning their careers with us.
In Conclusion:2020 has been quite a year. We have been presented with some significant challenges, and our response has set the standard for best practices. Our COVID-19 efforts continue to be designed to protect our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, and provide resources that help to maintain everyone’s health and safety. Mere words seem inadequate to express my gratitude to Jimena and her team. They have been working around the clock since March 15 – to help convey important information, and to make recommendations that will help to end this crisis. To the first responders and essential staff, your work has not gone unnoticed, thank you. Our behind the scenes workers, community partners and local units of government also helped us to provide and maintain services, I’m proud to have you as colleagues.
Our response to this event will help to guide future leaders, in the unfortunate occasion they are faced with a similar situation. We all came together and found ways to continue services to our residents, and ways to stay in touch with one another. We all chose our career in public service because we want to help others, and you did just that. Thank you.
2021 will begin with the same concerns we’re facing at the end of 2020, but we should also plan for the new opportunities that can allow us to achieve some great things. We cannot allow COVID to define us, rather, we can use it as an occasion to prove that Washtenaw County is made up of individuals who recognize that a team is much more effective than any one person. We are creating our legacy, I’m proud of it, just as I’m proud of each of you.
On behalf of the Board of Commissioners and myself, thank you, for all you do.
Gregory Dill Washtenaw County Administrator [email protected]