07/30/07 — Commissioners attend national conference

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Commissioners attend national conference

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 30, 2007 1:46 PM

Once a year, members of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners join nearly 3,000 of their counterparts from across the nation to discuss issues ranging from public safety to transportation to the environment.

Earlier this month, the National Association of Counties met in Richmond for its annual five-day conference. But, said those commissioners who attended, it was not the best session they've attended.

"The workshops were pretty much repeats of the past," Commissioner Atlas Price said. "It was just not as good of a conference as I've been to in the past. I don't feel like I got a lot out of this one and usually I get a lot from it."

The other three who went, though, said they were able to come back with a few pieces of worthwhile information -- particularly in areas of health care and social welfare.

Busiest of all was commissioner Andy Anderson who served as vice chairman of the national aviation committee -- one of the first, if not the first from a small, rural airport to hold such a position. His committee's biggest accomplishment, he said, was working to help keep the federal government from drastically increasing the aviation fuel tax.

The other commissioners, though, had plenty of workshops to attend themselves.

Commission Chairman John Bell, who also sits on the Eastpointe Board of Directors -- the local mental health management agency -- attended a class on mental health and the prison system.

"The jails are full of mental health patients and these people are serving their time and then being dumped back into the communities untreated," he said.

Locally, officials with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office have estimated that as many as 20 percent of the county jail population suffers from some sort of mental illness. It's problem that Bell intends to discuss with both boards.

"We're going to be looking at that closely," he said.

Commissioner J.D. Evans also took an interest in the health care issues being discussed at the conference.

"We got a lot of information to share with people back home about what we can do to help the uninsured," he said.

He explained that he's looking forward to discussing it with the rest of commissioners, as well as with the county Department of Social Services Board of Directors, on which he also serves.

In June, local physician Dr. Alma Jenkins pitched to the commissioners a proposal for finding a way to help provide health insurance to the 18,000 to 20,000 uninsured county residents. At that time, the commissioners indicated they were interested in helping, but were concerned about taking on any new expenses.

Evans also said he was excited to come back and talk to both boards about foster care and what can be done to improve the lives of those children. He said he was inspired to tackle the issue after hearing from Antwone Fisher -- the subject of a movie starring Derek Luke and Denzel Washington -- about his experiences in the foster care system.

Also serving on the county social services board is Anderson, who took particular interest in one session on new ways of investigating and preventing suspected cases of fraud.

"Right now, the way the laws are, your ability to go in and investigate is very small," he said.

But the biggest benefit of the week, the three commissioners agreed, was the chance to interact with peers from across the country.

"The main thing is building relationships with other people and hearing what other counties are doing," Evans said. "You learn by interfacing with other commissioners and meeting other people with similar problems."

The trip cost the county approximately $4,840. The funds come out of the commissioners' travel budget.