89.1 WEMU

Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith Resigns

Aug 17, 2016

Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith
Credit Washtenaw County / ewashtenaw.org

There is a hole to be filled on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.     

9th District commissioner Conan Smith abruptly resigned his seat Tuesday.

In a Facebook letter to constituents and the community, Smith says he has applied for the position of Washtenaw County Director of Community and Economic Development.

He says he felt the resignation necessary in order to avoid conflict of interest and any appearance of impropriety.  The board has oversight of the county administrator who, in turn, is in charge of making the hire for the development position. 

The Board of Commissioners will appoint a replacement for Smith. 

The Facebook message from Conan Smith: 

A Deeply Appreciative Farewell

Friends, colleagues and constituents . . .

Today I resigned from the Washtenaw  County Board of Commissioners, effective this Saturday.  It's one of the most difficult decisions that I've ever had to make because I love the job so much and I love serving all of you.

At the beginning of August, the County posted a job opportunity -- the Director of Community and Economic Development -- that after some deep thinking I've decided I really want to make a bid for.  The challenge is that the person who hires for that job, the County Administrator, is in turn responsible directly to the Board of Commissioners.  I felt that it would wrong to be in the position of both asking the Administrator for a job and simultaneously exercising power over his job.  Most of you know me well enough to know that I would zealously guard against any impropriety, and after some deep counsel from the likes of Alma Wheeler Smith and Rebekah Warren, I decided the best course of action, if I were serious about the job, was to resign from my position of authority.

The reason I'm choosing the potential of the job over the sure thing of the Commission seat is this: for the past year I have been spending more and more time working on issues of inequality and economic opportunity in our county, to the point that I feel I could be a more constant and effective force as a full-time staff member than as a part-time elected official.  I sincerely believe that I can better elevate the values of our district and the county as a whole if my j-o-b day in and day out is to focus on the systems and issues that impede or create opportunity for our residents. I really hope I interview well and get the offer to do the job!  We'll see.

And, I'll tell you this: I'm not worried about the seat on the Board. The Chair of the Board has assured me that they will appoint my replacement expeditiously so there is no gap in representation.

(Although Yousef Rabhi says they're going to take a cue from the US Senate and will not appoint until a new president is elected!!) I also know that our district has no shortage of talented, intelligent, and committed individuals who can fill that role perhaps even better than I have over the past twelve years.  That fact is one of the reasons I'm such a big fan of primaries. I know in my heart that there is amazing talent out there. If I'm hired by the County, ultimately, there will be a special election to fill the seat, so the voters of the district will have final say over who their representative is. One thing I do wish is that this weren't so abrupt, but the position was posted just two weeks ago and the closing deadline was today. I've had a lot to grapple with to make this decision, and it's not ideal that there isn't more time to figure out all of its implications. That can't be helped.

I'm also really sad and a bit scared about what this means for my current day job as the Executive Director of Metro Matters. I took that job the same month in 2004 that I won the primary for the Commission seat. I love that organization as much as I love the County, and both have deeply shaped me as a person and a leader. It's hard to imagine a life without the BOC or the nonprofit in it. If I get hired by the County and have to leave Metro Matters there are going to be tears (at least on my side), I guarantee it. I can't thank my board and my staff colleagues there enough for the opportunities they have afforded me over the past decade plus. Of course, if I don't get hired by the County, I've still got a lot of work to do on regional issues!  Similarly, I choked up when I pressed send on my resignation today.  And I downright broke down telling Yousef today, who is my brother from another mother. I can't help thinking about all the incredible experiences I've had on the Board with elected officials of all stripes, our amazing professional staff, and the most high-minded civic activists you could ask for. We've done some real and meaningful things together, like fighting against religious discrimination with the ACLU, breaking down barriers for immigrants to be active in our society, transforming workforce development and rethinking the strategic framework for $200M in county investment every year.

And, of course, I can't thank the people of the 9th district enough.  I hope I have served you well. I know that I have been a tremendous beneficiary of your trust and support over the last six terms. I cannot ever hope to repay you for that.  You are forever in my heart.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu