Behind the County Scenes

Care to do a virtual walk through the Board of Wayne County Commissioner’s office with me?

      With six months of up close and personal work as a new commissioner, I’m still in the midst of developing my own deeper understanding. I learned a long time ago that one of the best ways to learn is to go through the exercise of teaching something to others. So here we go.
      Let’s start in our Wayne County Commissioners’ office, which is currently in the lower level of the county administration building at 428 West Liberty in Wooster, not far from the east entrances to the county fairgrounds.
      There you will be greeted by Flo or Rachel, who are located in the front office. They coordinate a whole lot of traffic and information flow that relates mostly to the 225 or so employees who generally report to the commissioners through our team of administrators in places that we will be visiting during this virtual tour.  Rachel is a new mom and hails from the Shreve area. Flo is retired from the private business world and focuses on answering phones, guiding development planning work flow as well as wastewater treatment customer accounts.
      Also in a front office cubicle you will meet Trevor, our newest hire, who is deep into orientation on the Wayne County version of development planning as our Assistant Planning Director. 
Before we leave the front office, let’s walk over to a small office to meet Lisa Johnson, who administers a range of planning-related grant and loan programs. Next to her office is a meeting room where many smaller public commissioner meetings are held.
      As we head down an internal hallway we first meet Betsy Sparr, whose expertise as Planning Director is widely respected and who also has picked up other administrative support duties, such as supporting our airport, which we will visit later.
      Across from her office is a kitchenette that is likely to have food related to whatever national food day is playing. The next office is mine, followed by the offices of Vice-president Sue Smail and President Ann Obrecht.
      Commissioner Smail during the last half of 2016 filled the position vacated by the unexpected death of Commissioner Jim Carmichael. She is occupying the office Jim used, even though last November she was elected to the office vacated by now State Representative Scott Wiggam. I’m in the office vacated by Commissioner Wiggam.
      Commissioner Obrecht is our anchor commissioner, as she is serving her 15th year on the Board of Commissioners.
Pausing to Look at Commissioners’ Role
      Before we continue our tour, let’s pause for a few minutes to look a little more closely at the role of county commissioners here in Wayne County.
      I’m going to explain it at four levels:

  1. An Arm of State Government: Ohio’s 88 county governments are established very generally in our state constitution as the service delivery arms and hands of much of state government. In some ways we are similar to township government in that we are formed, shaped and empowered entirely by state laws.  To the extent that we have flexibility and options it is because they are provided in state law or as they are interpreted by legal opinions. This is in contrast to more flexible home rule powers granted in our state constitution to cities and villages.
  2. County Commissioner-Directed Services: These services relate to the 225 employees I mentioned. Our virtual tour will take us literally around the county as we meet the 13 directors and their associate teams that provide services under these functional names: Administrative Services, Airport, County Buildings and Grounds, Building Code, Care Center, Safety Dispatch Services, Dog Shelter and Warden, Emergency Management, Job and Family, Juvenile Attention, Planning, Solid Waste and Recycling, and Wastewater Treatment.
  3. Commissioner Elected Official Partnerships: Commissioners have interactive responsibilities with a range of county-wide elected officials. Many of them provide justice services: Three Common Please Judges — two in the general division and one serving in the juvenile and probate divisions; two Municipal Court Judges; as well as Clerk of Courts, Sheriff, Prosecutor, and Coroner. Also elected to deliver county-wide services are Auditor, Treasurer, Recorder, and Engineer.
          Commissioners have both a legislative and administrative partnership with these other elected officials. Our budget duties involve the challenge of authorizing budgets within available resources. We also provide substantial support for such things as developing and funding our HR compensation system, health and wellness program, information technology, records archiving, office supply pooling and printing services.
          Commissioners hold and provide all county real property, facilities and capital improvements.
  4. Agency, community and intergovernmental partnerships: In some ways this is the most important, though less well defined and less authoritative spectrum of our duties. It ranges from sitting on board and investing in the Wayne Economic Development Council to sitting on the Family and Children First Council or the County Planning Commission.
          It includes appointing to a range of operating boards, such as the County Public Library or the Mental Health and Recovery Board in conjunction with Holmes County and a state department. We also must approve placing this type of county-wide funding levy proposals to the voters.
          But it also involves catalytic and convening participation in various partner roles with OSU extension services, Wayne County Opiate Task Force, Veteran Services, the Wayne County Fair, Ag Success Team, Area Agency on Aging, Soil and Water Conservation District, etc.  For a longer, but by no means comprehensive list use this link.

      Stay tuned, as we pick up our tour of the many places, people, projects and services that either make up or are connected to your county government.