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Published: Wednesday, 12/27/2000

Zorn appoints 4 to serve on new housing panel

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - In what will likely be one of his last official acts as county chairman, Dale Zorn has appointed four people to serve on the county's newly created and highly controversial housing commission.

But even though a majority of its members are now in place, the commission charged with making sure there is adequate low-cost housing across Monroe County cannot conduct business or meet until a fifth and final member is appointed.

Without seeking a consensus vote of the rest of the county commission, Mr. Zorn last week appointed Jackie Drouillard to serve a one-year term; Debora Wykes to serve a two-year term; Chris Renius to serve for three years, and Joshua Sacks to serve a full five-year term.

The staggered terms in the board's initial makeup will allow county commissioners to appoint a housing commissioner each year, giving the county board some oversight of the housing board's actions.

The county chairman said he did not appoint a fifth member to the housing commission because he could not get a commitment from a qualified candidate.

“I'm looking for someone in the banking or financial field for the fifth appointment, and so far, I haven't had a commitment yet,” Mr. Zorn said.

But with the county chairmanship likely to go to another commissioner next week, the fifth appointment will probably be delayed even further, something Mr. Zorn said wouldn't necessarily bother him.

“If the clock runs out, it runs out,” Mr. Zorn said.

“I really don't know why he only appointed four of the members, but I suppose the last one will be up to the next chairman to decide,” county legal adviser Mark Braunlich said.

“[The housing commission] can't conduct business until the entire board is in place,” he said.

With the exception of the county's new jail, creation of a countywide housing commission has been among the most contentious issues undertaken by the county board in recent years.

It has taken current county commissioners almost their entire two-year terms to create the commission.

Pushed by officials with the Monroe County Opportunity Program as a way to qualify for federal and state low-income housing grants, several members of the county board expressed hostility toward a housing commission they saw as an infringement on local control.

Officials from MCOP sought the commissioners' approval to create what would become the first-ever case in Michigan of a private nonprofit group assuming responsibility for public housing.

The five-member housing commission would be legally able to solicit state and federal government grants and borrow money on their own to help ease what MCOP officials see as a shortage of available low-income housing in Monroe County.

Creation of the housing board occurred almost accidentally. The normally unanimous county board had more than five split votes on the issue in late 1999 and early this year before finally creating the board through a procedural glitch when a set of meeting minutes was approved.

Even after its de facto creation, the housing board has existed in name only for nearly a year as county board members waited for Mr. Zorn to appoint its members.

Mr. Zorn, who said he “lost his file” for several weeks and was unable to work on the problem, has said he also put off the decision to wait for the results of a county-wide housing “needs assessment” survey.

The survey, which was to have been completed last February, has not been finalized, MCOP officials said.



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